For Immediate Release, March 8, 2012
||Aruna Prabhala, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682
Severn Williams, Public Good PR, (415) 336-9623
Jeff Morgan, Sierra Club, (760) 324-8696
Erin Chalmers, Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, (415) 552-7272
Lawsuit Challenges Sprawling Salton Sea Development
Travertine Point Project Would Hurt Wildlands, Add to Pollution, Climate Crisis
RIVERSIDE, Calif.— The Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit yesterday against Riverside County for its Feb. 7 approval of the Travertine Point project, a proposed sprawling development along the Salton Sea that would include 16,655 houses and apartments and more than 5 million square feet of commercial space spread across 5,000 acres. Designed to house more than 40,000 people in an isolated area devoid of jobs, the project is expected to significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and further degrade the region’s poor air quality. The project will also cause irreparable harm to the adjacent sensitive wilderness areas of Anza Borrego Desert Park and Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.
“This proposal for a large new town on the shrinking Salton Sea is the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Erin Chalmers, an attorney with Shute, Mihaly, and Weinberger, LLP, who represents the Sierra Club in the case. “Making matters worse, the county failed to seriously analyze and mitigate the project’s numerous, severe impacts on local residents, wildlife and parks.”
Filed in Riverside County Superior Court in Indio, the lawsuit says the county failed to disclose or mitigate the full extent of the project’s environmental impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act and conducted inadequate environmental review of serious traffic impacts on the region. For example, the county’s “final environmental impact report” failed to analyze or mitigate the increased burden Travertine Point residents would place on Interstate 10, the closest major freeway.
“This project is another example of poorly planned growth that will increase desert sprawl and leave residents miles from any jobs,” said Aruna Prabhala with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Rather than more mindless sprawl, we need smart growth that promotes livable communities and reduces California’s greenhouse gas emissions.”
The five-phase, 35-year development plan would bring thousands of people to the desert and harm threatened species (including the burrowing owl, peninsular big-horn sheep and desert pupfish) and irreplaceable cultural resources on adjacent, protected park land.
“Anza Borrego and the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains are state and national treasures,” said Jeff Morgan, chairman of the Tahquitz Group of the Sierra Club. “The project’s feeble provisions for protecting sensitive parkland fall far short of what would be required to truly conserve these priceless resources.”
The project is the latest in a decades-long series of development proposals for the Salton Sea shoreline, nearly all of which have previously been abandoned. Long-term success of this project depends on the state of California restoring the Salton Sea, at a cost of $9 billion, and widening SR-86S to a six-lane highway, neither of which is likely to occur in the near future. The failure of either the restoration of the sea or widening of the highway would likely halt the project, thus freeing the developer from having to complete its mitigation obligations in Riverside County’s approved plan for the project.
About the Center for Biological Diversity (www.biologicaldiversity.org)
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
About the Sierra Club and Its San Gorgonio Chapter (www.sangorgonio.sierraclub.org)
The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest grassroots environmental organization. It is a California nonprofit organization with more than 600,000 members nationwide. Its San Gorgonio Chapter has more than 5,000 members and represents the Riverside County and San Bernardino County region.
About Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP (www.smwlaw.com)
Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP specializes in government, land use, natural resource and environmental law. Since 1980 the firm has provided representation to public agencies and community groups throughout California. Known for its commitment to promoting environmental and community values, SMW is at the forefront of major land use and development issues facing California.