Humboldt Baykeeper and the Environmental Protection Information Center have again filed a lawsuit against Eureka challenging the validity of the city's environmental impact report for the proposed Marina Center development.
The suit, filed in Humboldt County Superior Court last week, argues that the city acted in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act when it voted to place a ballot measure before city voters seeking to make a host of zoning changes to the property that is the proposed location for the project.
Specifically, the suit argues that the city was required to conduct an environmental review for the ballot measure, and that the project's final environmental impact report doesn't suffice as it is currently under judicial review and is a fatally flawed document, according to Baykeeper.
”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,” Baykeeper Executive Director Pete Nichols said in a press release. “The voters should know the ramifications of their decisions at the ballot box.”
Security National subsidiary CUE VI bought the 42 acre Balloon Track property, which sits south of Eureka's Old Town, in 2006 and is looking to build a mixed-use development featuring residential, office and retail space, as well as an 11-acre wetland reserve. A former railyard, the site contains contaminants from old underground fuel tanks and rail maintenance activities.
Security National Vice President Randy Gans said Wednesday that Baykeeper's suit is without merit.
”This is just another lawsuit by fringe environmental groups and their fee-loving lawyers to stop Marina Center,” Gans said in an e-mail to the Times-Standard. “How else could one explain these so-called 'environmental groups' recent opposition to the clean up and restoration of wetlands on (the) long neglected Balloon Track property.”
Last November, the city council approved a final environmental impact report for the project but, less than a month later, four local environmental groups -- including Baykeeper and EPIC -- filed a petition in December asking a Humboldt County judge to force Eureka to withdraw the report. The groups argued that the document failed to fully address the project's potential effects on the environment, including plans to clean up toxic soils, mitigate traffic, rezone the property and impacts on wastewater facilities.
Last month, at the request of Security National, the city council voted to put a measure on the November ballot asking city voters whether to amend the city's local coastal program and general plan to change the zoning of the property to make way for the proposed project.
The suit filed last week argues that, in making that decision, the council ran afoul of California environmental laws that require government sponsored initiatives to undergo full environmental review.
Nichols said Wednesday that the lawsuit contends that the environmental impact report does not suffice as a full environmental review for two reasons.
First, he said, the document is fatally flawed, as it fails to address all the project's potential impacts on the environment, especially in that it fails to address contamination below the top six inches of soil and in deep groundwater.
Second, Nichols said that the document is currently under judicial review due to the lawsuit filed in December and therefore can't be considered.
”What we're saying in this challenge is that (the environmental impact report) is flawed, it doesn't address all environmental impacts and that it needs to be re-circulated and re-examined,” Nichols said. “If this (ballot measure) were tied to a project with a legally valid EIR, this wouldn't be an issue.”
Gans said he believes the initial environmental impact report was beyond adequate.
”The EIR document was prepared by the finest environmental consultants on the West Coast,” Gans wrote in the e-mail. “This bogus lawsuit is just another attempt to silence the voice of the people.”
Currently, the lawsuit filed by the environmental groups in December is stayed pending action by the California Coastal Commission, which voted in December to hear an appeal of a coastal development permit issued by the city of Eureka that would have cleared the way for Security National to begin Phase 1 of the project. That included an interim cleanup plan and the creation of the wetland reserve.
However, Security National has so far refused to comply with the commission's request for further information on the property. The company and the Pacific Legal Foundation both filed lawsuits challenging the commission's jurisdiction over the project, but the suits were thrown out by a judge. Security National and the Pacific Legal Foundation are now reportedly considering appealing that ruling.
In any event, the process seems to be at a standstill, with the coastal commission waiting for information that Security National has previously said it has no intention of providing. Meanwhile, legal fees on all sides continue to mount.
Eureka City Manager David Tyson said the costs of defending the city in the most recent lawsuit will fall to Security National, which signed an indemnity agreement with Eureka absolving the city of any financial responsibility to defend the environmental impact report from legal challenges.