The Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) proposed the final toll road project in their Orange County network to extend toll road 241 16-miles from Rancho Santa Margarita to Interstate 5 south of San Clemente at Basilone Road. The six-lane Foothill South toll road would snake through some of Orange County’s last remaining wild habitat and cut through San Onofre State Beach, the Reserve at Mission Viego, and the Donna O’Neill Land Conservancy. TCA’s desired route would jeopardize 11 threatened or endangered species, destroy popular camp grounds, impair water quality, irreparably damage a sacred Acjacheman/Juaneño cermonial and reburial site, and risk a world famous surfing destination in order to simply construct another toll road. It is for those reasons Coastkeeper and numerous other environmental non-profit organizations oppose the construction of the 241 toll road.
Water Quality Impairment
The construction and daily use of a six-lane toll road in a relatively pristine coastal environment will result in a series of water quality impairments that must be responsibly addressed before any proposal should be seriously considered. Indeed, the San Mateo watershed is one of the healthiest coastal watersheds in southern California and San Mateo Creek remains the only undammed and undiverted major drainage basin south of Ventura.
Coastkeeper’s Water Monitoring Project
In 2006, TCA had yet to collect any water samples from the Cristianitos Creek or San Mateo Creek, normally the first step in protecting water quality, before beginning the toll road application process. In order to document the water quality conditions, Coastkeeper spent 2007-08 collecting samples from Cristianitos and San Mateo Creeks, and added San Juan Creek in 2009-2010. This baseline data will play a crucial role in understanding the potential effects of the toll road on surrounding watersheds, such as the discharge of oil, metals, trash and sediment from the toll road’s surface into the creeks. In the relatively pristine ecosystems of San Mateo Creek and Cristianos Creek, these pollutants should not be present. During our monthly sampling, we tested for: bacteria, nutrients, metals, turbidity (clarity of the water), and TRPH (Total Recoverable Petroleum Hydrocarbons). To learn more about how these water quality parameters can affect ecosystems, visit the Coastkeeper’s Water Monitoring page.
Click the reports below to see what we found:
- Water Quality Report-San Juan Creek, San Mateo Creek and Cristianitos Creek- April 2009 to February 2010
- San Mateo/Cristianitos Creek Baseline Water Quality Monitoring Report- July 2007 to June 2008
When challenged on water quality, TCA counters Coastkeeper’s concerns by arguing that the installation of mitigation measures, such as roadway sand filter inserts designed to collect pollutants, will mitigate the impacts road pollution, such as metal shavings, would have on the the immediate waterways including San Mateo Creek. However, similar systems were installed by TCA on the Route 73 and have proven to be ineffective in practice. Additionally, after construction of the road, TCA transfers legal title to the State of California and leases the property back from the state so the Department of Transportation is liable for maintenance of the road and anti-pollution measures instead of the TCA. This practice has proven to expose tax-payers statewide to maintenance of an otherwise private toll road and relieves TCA of liability when poorly constructed and maintained anti-pollution devices fail.
In sum, Coastkeeper does not consider sand filters and detention basins proposed by TCA to be acceptable measures to protect water quality — these are not the best technologies available, which we believe should be required to protect a state park.
TCA’s proposed contouring, construction, and paving of a state park in order to develop a six-lane toll road would result in significant changes to the hydrologic function of the San Mateo watershed. Modifying the existing natural drainage channels and creating acres of impervious surfaces (concrete and asphalt) will increase the velocity of storm water causing stream destabilization, increased erosion, and sediment production. Natural systems are fragile and increases in water flow in stream channels are met with exponentially proportionate erosion impacts to the amount of impermeable or disturbed land upstream. In practice, the more impervious area upstream the greater the amount of destabilized canyons, altered hydrology, and erosion.
TCA has yet to even modify their Runoff Management Plan to address the utilization of Best Management Practices for non-roa Issues with the impact erosion would have on San Mateo Creek and the surf break at Trestles have not been adequately answered.
Endangered Species and Habitat Loss
Pacific Pocket Mouse
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Wildlife Service) Biological Opinion, the proposed development area for the 241 extension would destroy more than half of the remaining high-quality habitat for the critically endangered Pacific pocket mouse. This rare species was listed by the Wildlife Service as endangered in 1994 nearly twenty years after it was believed extinct but rediscovered in 1993. Fearing their extirpation, the Wildlife Service declined to identify the species critical habitat for fear of publishing the location of the sole Pacific pocket mouse colony. After reviewing the documents associated with the construction and operation of the toll road, the Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion concluded that the TCA’s proposed mitigation measures for splitting the Pacific pocket mouse’s habitat and isolating communities – linked by a long, dark culvert extending hundreds of meters under the road – could permanently prevent natural genetic interchange between the communities and harm the recovery effort. The Biological Opinion also concedes pocket mice could be “stressed, injured, or die” as a result of construction, directly killed by cars traveling on the toll road, increased fire risk or concentrated predation. The Wildlife Service fully expects the toll road to cause considerable harm to this critically endangered species.
San Mateo Creek runs 16 miles from the Cleveland National Forest to San Onofre State Beach as one of southern California’s last free flowing streams. San Mateo Creek is believed to be the only river south of Malibu Creek in Los Angeles County to support a breeding population of southern steelhead and is considered to be critically important to the future of the fish in this region. Large deposits of cobble make San Mateo Creek one of the regions best locations for the reintroduction of additional endangered stealhead trout. In 2000, 46 steelhead were counted by the California Department of Fish and Game and the Trout Unlimited South Coast Chapter in Orange County.
The National Marine Fisheries Service sites potential fuel spills on the toll road as one example of a negative impact to San Mateo Creek and the estuary. Estuaries are important breeding grounds for juvenile steelhead and a point of acclimation for adult and juvenile steelhead transitioning from the ocean and the creek. The 241 extension construction activities are expected to increase turbidity and the deposition of fine sediments, both harmful consequences to young stealhead (fry). In 2007, the American Rivers group listed San Mateo Creek as the second most threatened river in America due to the proposed construction of the 241 extension.
The Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion predicts twenty seven pairs of California gnatcatchers will be harmed due to the loss of habitat. Some of the birds are expected to die, while others “may suffer a reduction in fitness and productivity.” Additional endangered gnatcatchers are expected to die due to the increased risk of brush fires and vehicle strikes. The Wildlife Service concluded the toll road will eliminate more than 300 acres of coastal sage scrub habitat occupied by more than 50 breeding pairs of the threatened Coastal California gnatcatcher.
Least Bells Vireo
The Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion predicts at least five pairs of least Bells vireo will be harmed by the loss of riparian habitat caused by the construction of the toll road. The Biological Opinion concluded the toll road will destroy more than 22 acres of remaining habitat and harm at least five pairs of the endangered least Bells vireo. TCA proposes mitigating the impact of destroying a heavily used least Bells vireo habitat by restoring a section not anticipated to offset the impact to the disturbed population.
The arroyo toad’s sensitive habitat will be bisected by the toll road which will create a substantial barrier to north/south transition to the upland environment. The upland environment is used by the arroyo toad to forage and disperse through the immediate area. The The Wildlife Service concluded the toll road project will destroy hundreds of acres of upland habitat for two populations of the endangered arroyo toad and increase mortality by concentrating the population for predators.
Coastal Recreational Loss
San Onofre State Beach is one of California’s most popular recreational areas hosting 2.4 million visitors annually to experience the epicenter of southern California’s surf culture. San Onofre’s gentle surf is well-known and appreciated by surfers of all levels and is a well loved stomping ground for lovers of the beach and surf. Trestles, an internationally renown surf break, was created through sediment flows from the mouth of San Mateo Creek and it is this consistent flow of sediment that maintains this California icon. Interfering with this flow may condemn Trestles to the ranks of California’s extinct surf spots – Killer Dana, Stanley’s, Flood Control, and Corona del Mar.
San Mateo Campground is a low-cost coastal recreational area used by over one hundred thousand people annually and accounts for more than 10% of all the coastal campsites within a 50-mile radius. The campground is a critically important coastal access resource the California Coastal Commission required to offset the construction of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in the 1970s and is most popular campground at the state park at San Onofre State Beach and the site of the trail to Trestles Beach. The California Department of Parks and Recreation concluded in a study it would likely be forced to close the entire 1,000 acre section (60% of the entire park and 161 sites) if the toll road were constructed. The loss of a low-cost, quiet, isolated, and slightly-improved coastal campground enjoyed by families, surfers, and scout troops would be irreplaceable.
Destruction of Cultural Resources
The banks of San Mateo Creek were once home to the Acjachemen/Juaneño Village of Panhé, the regions largest Native American village. Used as a ceremonial and reburial site, the site is currently listed on the Sacred Lands file at the Native American Heritage Commission and is one of seven sites listed in the San Mateo Archaeological National Register District. According to State Archaeologists, the toll road would run through and adjacent to the Village of Panhé and within feet of the cemetery. The Native American Heritage Commission concluded the construction of the toll road would cause irreparable injury and harm to important cultural resources within San Onofre State Beach.
Active Opposition: Coastkeeper’s Role
On February 6, 2008, after a public hearing by the California Coastal Commission lasting 11 1/2 hours and attended by approximately 3,500 people in Del Mar, the Coastal Commission voted 8-2 to reject the proposed TCA toll road. Briana Madden represented Coastkeeper and voiced our objection to the project at the hearing. The Coastal Commission concluded the proposed project violated the California Coastal Act and the California approved coastal management plan. TCA appealed to the U.S. Department of Commerce seeking a consistency certification from the federal government which would permit them to overrule the Coastal Commission and construct the toll road.
In order to override the Coastal Commission, the Department of Commerce would have to conclude the project was consistent with the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) or that the project is necessary in the interest of national security. The Coastal Commission concluded the project was inconsistent with the CZMA which left the TCA to argue the construction of a toll road immediately adjacent to an active Marine Corp base was necessary in the interest of national security.
The Department of Commerce rejected the consistency certification and concluded that “there is at least one reasonable alternative to the project….[and] that the project is not necessary in the interest of national security.” Read more:
- “Broken Promises: Extending the 241 Toll Road South”- Coastkeeper Magazine
- Commerce Department Press Release
- “O.C. toll road hits dead end”- LA Times
It’s Not Over Yet: Alternate Routes
After the Department of Commerce rejected TCA’s proposed route for the 241 extension officials began designing alternate routes. Rather than address core issues with the toll road, TCA chose instead to shift the northeastern boundary of San Onofre State Beach around the toll road and encroach into Marine Corp Base Camp Pendleton.
TCA’s proposed alternate route through Camp Pendleton was rejected by the Marine Corp in a letter signed by Major General Anthony L. Jackson, Commanding General, Marine Corps Installation West, and Colonel Nick Marano, Commanding Officer, Marine Corp Base Camp Pendleton. According to the letter, the TCA should “find another alternative to it’s proposed alignment of the 241 Toll Road through vital training areas on Camp Pendleton.” The creation of an alternate route through the northern section of Camp Pendleton would disrupt nighttime training activities, increase the risk to base security, and reduce the available area needed by our nation’s military to perform necessary training operations.
Despite a chorus of opposition from the public, military, state and the federal government the TCA appears dedicated to the construction of an ill conceived toll road through a southern California coastal treasure.
The TCA filed an environmental permit with the Regional Water Quality Control Board to build a 5.5 mile extension of the 241 toll road (this is one of many permits they need to obtain). This extension would end in a dirt road, so it is literally a “road to nowhere”. It is obvious that they are trying to peace-meal their desired 16 mile extension, which was rejected in 2008. Their RWQCB application is grossly inadequate—TCA is overlooking impacts to important wetlands, the San Juan Creek, and the surrounding watershed (which could potentially affect the coastal zone). Learn more here.