By Miriam Raftery
January 15, 2011 (San Diego’s East County) – Three local organizations and an East County land use issues expert have filed a lawsuit against five federal agencies. The suit alleges that the agencies approved SDG&E’s planned Sunrise Powerlink transition line in violation of environmental regulations—in some cases, making decisions based on the original route through the Anza Borrego Desert, instead of the revised southern route through numerous East County communities.
The suit makes other contentions, notably that key decision makers ignored fire danger and failed to consider the collective impact on public lands in East County, where several wind farms are planned as well as Powerlink in some wilderness areas. In addition, plaintiffs claim that some decisions were made before completion of studies on endangered species and that once completed, those studies found the project could threaten endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, golden eagles, and other species.
The Protect Our Communities Foundation, Backcountry Against Dumps, East County Community Action Coalition, and Donna Tisdale, chair of the Boulevard Planning Group filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, southern district of California. The suit is filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the directors/leaders and key decision makers within each agency, such as William Metz, director of the Cleveland National Forest , who approved the project through forest lands in East County.
The suit asks for declaratory and injunctive relief to halt construction and require further environmental review in accordance with federal and state requirements that plaintiffs argue were ignored by federal authorities. Plaintiffs also contend that federal authorities authorized damage to scenic and aesthetic resources, increasing risks to wildlife, without taking steps to minimize damage or protect the environment as required by law, also failing to consider less impactful alternatives such as rooftop solar co-location of Sunrise Powerlink within the existing Southwest Powerlink, or requiring that lines be placed underground in scenic areas.