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Ventura County

Dam Foes in Court to Save Trees

January 25, 2002|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Critics of the Lang Ranch dam in Thousand Oaks are scheduled to appear before a judge this morning, hoping to stop county officials from cutting 40 oak trees to make way for the project.

Dam opponents filed a motion for a temporary restraining order Thursday afternoon in Ventura County Superior Court after flood control officials received the final permit needed to go forward with the dam.

Although construction isn't likely to begin until April, the trees are slated to be cut Monday, before bird nesting season begins.

Nature advocates and dam opponents had urged the county not to cut any trees until the state Division of Safety of Dams issued its permit; opponents had hoped to raise enough concerns to block that permit. Late Wednesday, however, the state informed county flood control officials that the final permit was being issued.

Gerry Langer, director of Save Lang Oaks Fund, said opponents will argue that the permitting process did not follow state guidelines and that concerns that the dam site is vulnerable to a landslide were not adequately addressed.

"We're filing for a temporary restraining order to save the trees and stop the project until this can be aired out in court," Langer said. "If we lose, we're going to have a farewell funeral party for the trees. If we get the temporary restraining order, it's not over by a longshot. But it will show everybody there's merit in what we're saying."

Flood control officials have said the planned 66 1/2-foot dam is needed to protect homeowners and habitat downstream in the event of a 100-year storm. In fact, they say the need for the dam was exacerbated by the Lang Ranch housing development, where Langer and many other people now fighting the dam live.

"We've been very open in this process. You can't be too careful when you're building a dam that's close to a landslide," said Jeff Pratt, the county's flood control manager. "If there are holes in our knowledge we want to know, but we feel we've been duly diligent. I don't know how adding one more review can help."

Project opponents dispute the county's argument. Some say no dam is needed or that a smaller dam would suffice. Others say they would have fewer objections if the dam were placed in an area with no oaks.

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