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SOUTH BEACH: SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

Permit OKd for $50-Million High School on Wetland Area

March 04, 1998|SUSAN DEEMER

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved a permit for the Capistrano Unified School District to build a $50-million high school on about three acres of wetland area in Chiquita Canyon.

About six weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service had blocked the district from receiving a permit to build on nine acres of wetland area. But Capistrano officials revised their plans for the site.

Capistrano officials "came a long way," said Rebecca Tuden, wetlands regulatory permit manager for the EPA. "Their proposals for creek and wetland restoration [were better] so we thought it was a fair compromise."

Although the revised plan submitted by Capistrano was not ideal, Tuden said the EPA was lenient given the school district's funding limits on finding another site.

The EPA considers the riparian habitat and alkali marshes in Chiquita Canyon a resource of national importance. But school officials said they couldn't afford to buy a less environmentally sensitive site.

Additionally, the school district faced losing $22.5 million in state funds to build the school if the land use issues weren't settled by April 23.

"We couldn't 100% meet all the issues, but the EPA knew we made a significant effort so they will be cooperating with the district," said David Doomey, assistant superintendent of facilities planning.

Army Corps officials said the permit was approved because the new proposal would affect fewer than three acres. The permit is subject to several conditions imposed by the EPA.

"We were able to realign the access road serving the high school from Oso Parkway to a more westerly alignment, thereby missing about five acres of wetland territory," Doomey said.

Athletic fields and eight tennis courts were relocated from the north side to the south side of the site.

Capistrano officials say the high school will open in fall 2001.

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