by Hank Sims
... and the lawsuits keep coming! According to a just-issued press release Humboldt Baykeeper and the Environmental Protection Information Center have filed suit against the City of Eureka for sponsoring a ballot measure that would change the zoning of the Balloon Track -- the old railyard where Security National wants to build its Marina Center development. The two groups argue that the environmental impact report approved by the city a few months ago is flawed, and therefore any ballot measure based on that report is likewise flawed.
EUREKA - Humboldt Baykeeper, a local Humboldt Bay advocacy organization, and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) have filed suit against the City of Eureka for failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved placing an initiative to change zoning on the Balloon Track, the site of the proposed Marina Center project, on November's ballot.
Under California law, government-sponsored ballot measures are subject to environmental review under CEQA. Humboldt Baykeeper and EPIC assert that the environmental review that the City conducted for this project is seriously flawed and not in compliance with the requirements of CEQA. "The hasty decision by the City of Eureka to place this issue on the November ballot without considering the potential environmental impacts is a disservice to the citizens of Eureka," said Pete Nichols, Executive Director of Humboldt Baykeeper. "The voters should know the ramifications of their decisions at the ballot box," he continued.
The ballot measure, known as Measure N, would amend the City's Local Coastal Plan (LCP) and change the zoning on the Balloon Track to a designation that would "ensure that uses at the site are restricted to development that causes no more or more intense environmental impacts than those already examined in the Marina Center Mixed Use Development Project Environmental Impact Report (EIR)." But the environmental impacts of the proposed development were never properly analyzed, so the public cannot really know what they are voting about. For example the EIR does not address the contamination on the property resulting from long years of use as a railroad maintenance yard, nor the impacts of development and contamination in the wetlands found onsite.
Scott Greacen, Executive Director of EPIC says that he questions the motives behind the Measure N ballot initiative. "It's really important that the people of Eureka understand that this ballot initiative is a cynical hijack of the mechanisms of our democracy to serve a single narrow set of financial and political interests," he said. "What's really happening here is that once again, a large corporation is using his enormous wealth and the political power it creates to pump up the value of his property and punish those he sees as political enemies," he continued.
The EIR being used by the City for the proposed ballot initiative was certified in November of 2009 and Humboldt Baykeeper and EPIC filed suit regarding its many inadequacies in December.
"This EIR was first used by the City of Eureka to approve a Coastal Development Permit for an inadequate cleanup plan for the property," Michelle Smith, staff attorney for Humboldt Baykeeper, stated. "Now they are attempting to use the same defective document for another project. CEQA is clear that the potential impacts of a proposed project must be analyzed before it is approved by agency decision-makers, and sister agencies and the public must be given the opportunity to comment on the entirety of the project. This simply has not been done here," she continued.
Nichols states that the failures of the environmental review are many and include lack of details on cleanup of the property, concerns regarding wastewater treatment, traffic impacts and compliance with the California Coastal Act. Additionally, according to Humboldt Baykeeper and EPIC, the environmental review lacks protections for biological resources at the site including threatened and endangered fish, plant, and other species.