January 19, 2011

Sunrise Powerlink foes sue the U.S. Forest Service

By Onell R. Soto, San Diego Union-Tribune, www.signonsandiego.com 18 January 2011

Groups opposed to the Sunrise Powerlink are suing to stop construction of the big power line, claiming that federal officials broke the law when they approved it across the Cleveland National Forest.

The lawsuit is not a surprise.

Opponents of the San Diego Gas & Electric line are now in court challenging other approvals, such as those by the Bureau of Land Management and the California Public Utilities Commission.

This lawsuit, filed Friday in San Diego federal court, challenges last summer’s approval of the line by William Metz, supervisor of the Cleveland National Forest.

It is brought by the Protect Our Communities Foundation, Backcountry against Dumps, the East County Community Action Coalition, and Boulevard-based activist Donna Tisdale.

In addition to the Forest Service, it names several federal agencies, including the BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous federal officials.

The suit calls Sunrise “a hastily conceived, poorly studied, wildfire inducing and completely unnecessary transmission line.”

A Forest Service spokesman said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

When he approved the line in July, Metz said he fully considered the line’s impacts, including changes by SDG&E to reduce its footprint.

He said at the time that he expected litigation.

“That’s part of the process,” he said. “It is a defensible decision.”

Construction of the line began late last year. SDG&E celebrated it with a catered party in the far east county with outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the keynote speaker.

SDG&E says the line is needed to bring power from solar farms, geothermal plants and wind farms to San Diego, to make the grid more reliable and the lower costs by allowing it to import more electricity.

It says the line has been thoroughly studied and point to environmental reports of more than 10,000 pages.

But the critics say that’s not proof that the review was adequate. They say the the route ultimately chosen, which winds through forest and federal land in the East County, was dismissed by SDG&E as not feasible during much of the time the line was being considered.

In the recently filed lawsuit, the critics say that the Forest Service should have prepared a supplemental environmental impact report once the route was changed from a controversial option that would have crossed the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

They said they told Metz that the route would increase the risk of wildfire, harm animals and plants, hurt views and increase noise in the forest.

“The Cleveland National Forest is San Diego’s natural backyard and needs protection, not industrialization,” said El Monte resident Laura Cyphert of the East County Community Action Coalition, in a statement. “The Forest Service turned its back on its conservation mandate and even amended its land use plan to carve the powerlink and new roads into previously protected areas.”

Among other things, the critics are asking Judge Irma Gonzalez to stop the project and to set aside the Forest Service approval of the project.

Another lawsuit in San Diego federal court, which challenges approval by the Bureau of Land Management, continues and is set for a summary judgment motion on March 7 before Judge William Anello.

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2011/01/19/sunrise-powerlink-foes-sue-the-u-s-forest-service/