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Activists Decry Plan to Bypass Tollway Rules

July 12, 2002|DAVID REYES and DAN WEIKEL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Environmentalists expressed outrage Thursday after learning that language in a military appropriations bill before Congress would exempt development of a private toll road from state laws because it cuts through federal land.

Opponents of a proposal by the Transportation Corridor Agencies to extend the Foothill South tollway through San Clemente to San Onofre State Beach had backed a state bill that would limit roads in state parks.

San Onofre State Beach, once part of Camp Pendleton, is leased by the state from the federal government.

"This is clearly an attempt to go to the federal government to block any state protections" related to the state beach, said Bill Corcoran, regional representative for the Sierra Club.

If the language stands, the Foothill South would be exempt from regulatory oversight by the state Coastal Commission or any laws that might affect roads through state parks. A bill by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) to limit road construction in parks has stalled in Sacramento.

Corcoran and other activists derided the new language addressing toll roads in the military authorization bill as "stealth legislation" because it was slipped into the bill with no fanfare.

But Lisa Telles, a TCA spokeswoman, said the language grew out of discussions with the TCA, Marine Corps and Department of Defense.

"We intend to follow all laws. Our only intention is to keep all the alternatives on the table until a final decision is made," Telles said.

Neither the Marines nor the TCA wants state law interfering with the alternatives now under study, representatives for both have said.

Of the six possible plans for the Foothill South, the Marines prefer the route that goes through San Onofre because it interferes the least with Camp Pendleton. Last year, Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista) introduced similar language into a House bill, but it was deleted.

This year, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Riverside) reinserted the exemption on behalf of the TCA and Marine Corps, a spokesman from Calvert's office said.

Chris Evans, executive director of Surfrider Foundation, one of the opponents of Foothill South, said the exemption "is an outrage."

"To see them slip this through in the dark of the night tells you all you need to know about the TCA. It's sad ... I can't believe it," he said.

Debate on the appropriations measure continues in Congress. It includes budget items on homeland security and major military projects. The section containing the toll road is not expected to be taken up until after Labor Day, an Appropriations Committee spokesman said.

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