Response to Dyer lawsuit could take months
Rick Crabtree, the county’s special counsel for the Dyer Mountain project, said he has seen the lawsuit but the county had not been officially served as of Tuesday, Oct. 30.
The first step in the county’s response will be preparing the administrative record and that will take a few months, Crabtree said. The county’s first filing with the court will occur sometime after that record is complete.
The lawsuit also seeks an order directing the county to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, a temporary stay and restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions stopping the county and its agents from taking any action to implement the project until full compliance with CEQA.
The suit claims the county failed to provide sufficiently detailed analysis of the resort’s impacts. It “failed to fully account for the resort’s cumulative and growth-inducing impacts” improperly deferred mitigation measures, failed to analyze an adequate range of alternatives and its analyses of cultural, traffic and air quality impacts were legally flawed.
“There are no surprises contained in the lawsuit,” Crabtree wrote in an email to the newspaper. “The lawsuit presents the classic battle between project opponents and proponents: how much environmental analysis is enough? There is never enough environmental analysis to satisfy those opposed to the project.”
County officials believe they met CEQA requirements in the EIR, Crabtree wrote, adding the environmental review for the project took several years “and included thousands of pages of reports and analysis.”
“Further environmental analysis will follow when the project developer submits specific applications for development of the project,” he wrote.
As a programmatic EIR, which analyzed the overall project and not specific aspects of the development, the EIR was a “very appropriate first step in a series of additional reviews and a series of additional environmental analyses that we will perform” according to Dyer Mountain Associates’ attorney Bill Abbott.
He told the board on Sept. 25 the EIR did not represent the final environmental analysis.
“This process will go on for a number of years,” he said, “and that works hand in hand with your development agreement. The development agreement does not preclude you … from imposing the required mitigation measures necessary to mitigate impacts. This is by no means the end of the journey.”
The suit, which also seeks court costs and attorney’s fees, claims the discussion of the effect on global warming was inadequate and necessitated recirculation of the EIR
The three groups filed the lawsuit on Thursday, Oct. 25, the legal deadline for lawsuits based on CEQA. The act’s statute of limitations sets a deadline for filing a court action challenging approval of the project under CEQA 30 days after the county files a notice of determination. The county filed the notice on Sept. 25.
The Bay Area law firm Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger filed the unlimited civil lawsuit against the county of Lassen, the Lassen County Board of Supervisors and several as-yet-unnamed respondents.
Alleged CEQA violations
This suit claims the county violated CEQA in approving the EIR and tentative parcel map on Sept. 25 and the development agreement ordinance on Oct. 9. Calling the four-season resort southwest of Westwood a huge new development, the suit said the 6,741-acre ski area and golf resort on undeveloped land on the flanks of Dyer Mountain “would house at least 17,382 people, making it in essence a brand-new city, just miles from Westwood, a small community of about 2,000 people.”
The large new population and unprecedented degree of construction in an undeveloped and sparsely populated area will lead to “a wide array of significant environmental impacts,” it said.
The EIR analyzes the impacts “only in the most general terms, leaving the public and decision makers in the dark about the details of the real impacts,” the lawsuit claims.
The petition for writ of mandate claims the EIR failed to identify mitigation measures sufficient to avoid the impacts it does identify. By approving the project, the county “made a decision without all of the information needed to properly weigh the consequences of the development.” It approved the project based on a series of findings lacking “the support of substantial evidence.”
“Based solely on the self-interested assertions” of the developer, the county found alternatives infeasible, though any alternative “could have been less environmentally damaging than the project itself,” it said.
In finding the project’s benefits would outweigh its environmental consequences, the county simply assumed the resort would be successful, “completely ignoring the threat that global warming poses to this low-altitude ski area, as well as other factors,” it said.
A November 2000 voter initiative rezoned the land from timber production to mountain resort, paving the way for a ski area that would “serve 10,450 skiers at one time and include the capacity to house at least 17,382 people in 4,104 dwelling units.”
The lawsuit claims, “The project site stands at the confluence of two of California’s major ecological regions, the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades.
“This geography brings to the site a unique array of wildlife and plants, including federally-protected bald eagles and a variety of rare plants,” it said. “The project area also includes several sites sacred to the Honey Lake Maidu people.”
The petitioners submitted comments on the draft EIR, circulated in November 2004, noting it failed to provide sufficiently detailed analysis of the resort’s impacts. As a general review of the resort’s overall impact, the EIR “failed to fully account for the resort’s cumulative and growth-inducing impacts” and “improperly deferred mitigation measures” until project-specific plans are submitted for individual phases of development.
The lawsuit claims the EIR also failed to analyze an adequate range of alternatives.
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