RIVERSIDE, Calif. July 28, 2017— Conservation groups today filed an appeal in federal court challenging a massive $1.7 billion freeway project in Southern California that would cut through low-income neighborhoods, threaten wildlife preserves and worsen air pollution.
The six-lane “Mid County Parkway” would fragment the San Jacinto Valley and bring more sprawl and traffic to a rural area rich in agriculture, open space and wildlife preserves.
“This massive waste of taxpayer money won’t solve traffic problems, but it will break up neighborhoods and wildlife habitat,” said Aruna Prabhala, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the appealing groups. “Rather than offer 21st century transit solutions, the Federal Highway Administration shrugged off environmental laws and pushed through this boondoggle, which will hurt imperiled animals and force hundreds of people from their homes.”
Today’s appeal comes after a U.S. District Court ruling in May that found the misleading and incomplete environmental review for the project was sufficient under the National Environmental Policy Act. The plaintiffs intend to challenge this misunderstanding of what the law requires.
The flawed environmental review notes that the chosen route “would result in the highest impacts to residential relocations in areas with minority and low-income populations.” Construction of the highway would force up to 396 residents from their homes and displace businesses that employ more than 170 people.
“The Mid County Parkway would worsen our region’s struggling air quality and tear up neighborhoods with a permanent new source of diesel exhaust and soot,” said George Hague of the San Gorgonio chapter of the Sierra Club. “Instead of this wasteful new six-lane freeway, the county should be proposing cleaner and cheaper upgrades to the Ramona Expressway to improve traffic safety.”
Riverside County environmental documents admit the project will worsen air quality and greenhouse gas pollution while harming farmlands and sensitive wildlife preserves. Environmentally sensitive wildlife areas around the freeway that would be affected by the project include the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, Lake Perris State Recreation Area, and important core reserves designated for conservation under regional habitat conservation plans.
The freeway would cut through the San Jacinto Valley, which is home to numerous imperiled wildlife species, including the burrowing owl, Swainson’s hawk, tricolored blackbird, willow flycatcher and Stephens’ kangaroo rat. It’s also one of the most important areas for migratory birds in Southern California and is renowned as a haven for birds of prey, including bald and golden eagles and peregrine falcons.
“The Mid County Parkway opens the door to shortsighted efforts to pave over the beautiful San Jacinto Valley, destroy its agricultural community and degrade one of Southern California’s most important wetlands — the San Jacinto Wildlife Area,” said Tom Paulek of the Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley. “Approving the reckless freeway destroys the possibility for sustainable land use planning to reduce urban-industrial sprawl, preserve local agriculture and protect wildlife.”
Today’s appeal was filed in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals against the Federal Highway Administration by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley. In addition to this federal lawsuit, the same coalition filed a legal challenge to the freeway in state court in May 2015.