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Activists Ask Judge to Halt Yosemite Road Project

February 21, 1999| From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Environmental groups asked a federal judge last week to halt the rebuilding and widening of a 7 1/2-mile road that runs alongside the Merced River into Yosemite Valley.

The $33-million reconstruction of El Portal Road, which started in October, will damage a scenic canyon and bring more cars into Yosemite National Park, contrary to the National Park Service's stated plan to reduce traffic, the lawsuit said.

"The once-protected canyon will be scarred by bulldozers, dynamite, cement and the mark of human development," said the suit, filed by the Sierra Club and Mariposans for Environmentally Responsible Growth.

The suit, which was filed Friday, challenged the Park Service's decision that the project would have no significant environmental effect and therefore did not need an environmental impact statement, which would have required public comment, protective measures and consideration of alternatives.

The project also violates the park's general management plan, which calls for the removal of all cars from Yosemite Valley, and conflicts with the Merced River's protected status under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the suit said.

The groups asked U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney for a temporary restraining order that would stop work on the road pending further proceedings in the case.

Park spokesman Scott Gediman said government lawyers had not seen the lawsuit yet and had no comment.

The road, California Highway 140, runs from the park's western boundary to the Phono Bridge in Yosemite Valley. Damaged in a January 1997 flood, it was patched together and reopened several months later. But park officials decided to rebuild it as a wider, straighter two-lane roadway that would be safer for larger vehicles like tour buses.

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