January 9, 2004
CONSERVATION GROUPS FILE LEGAL CHALLENGE TO ILLEGAL DEVELOPMENT IN BALD EAGLE
Today’s lawsuit seeks public review and disclosure
of issues related to habitat for endangered and threatened species, air quality,
land use, noise, aesthetics and the cumulative impact of all projects in the
area, prior to any development at Marina Point.
The Big Bear Lake region has undergone dramatic changes due to development and natural causes over the past two decades. The project site is located in the rural area of Fawnskin on the North Shore of Big Bear Lake, in what is essentially the last undeveloped stretch of lakeshore. The County has not conducted any CEQA review for development of the site for over ten years.
A previous project approval on the site, known as “Marina Point,” included the construction of 133 condominiums, a marina for approximately 175 boats, and other recreational development. Due to the lack of proper review and permitting, it is unclear what exactly the developer currently plans to build on the environmentally sensitive site. Construction work on the site, including grading, dredging, and road building, commenced earlier this year but was subsequently halted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers due to violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
Today’s lawsuit, filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), challenges the County of San Bernardino’s failure to conduct the required environmental review of the development. The County has not conducted any CEQA review for development of the site since 1990. Development approvals issued in 1991 for the site have also expired. The County Supervisors and staff have ignored the concerns of local residents who objected to commencement of the development project without proper review and permitting.
“The County has abandoned its duty to enforce CEQA and its own development code,” said Everett DeLano, legal counsel for the Friends of Fawnskin and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The bald eagle, protected under both the California and federal Endangered Species Acts, winters in the Big Bear Valley each year. The project site and surrounding area is prime foraging habitat for the species. Long-standing regulations protect the bald eagle during its wintering season from December 1 to April 1, and include measures such as limiting construction activites and boating in eagle habitat. Even though the eagles had returned by early November, work on this project continued well into December.
The lawsuit also challenges the Department of Fish and Game’s issuance of a permit to allow construction activities in December, based on an illegal finding that issuance of the permit was exempt from CEQA review.
“The officials in San Bernardino County have clearly failed to protect Big Bear Valley’s wildlife habitat, air quality, and quality of life. This action sends a message that ignoring the law will no longer be tolerated,” said Adam Keats, Staff Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.