A southern Orange County toll road extension would virtually destroy a section of San Mateo Creek, a national conservation group said Monday.
The group, American Rivers, announced it was adding the creek to its annual list of endangered waterways to be published online today. In addition to endangering the creek, the group said, the proposed extension of the Foothill South toll road would "plow over" a state campground and wipe out the famous Trestles surfing beach in northern San Diego County.
"The area is a textbook example of the aesthetic and economic benefits a free-flowing river can provide to a community," said Rebecca R. Wodder, American Rivers president, describing the road's alignment as "truly maddening" and likely to destroy creek-bottom habitats and natural ecosystems without alleviating traffic congestion.
Toll road officials disagreed with that assessment of the project's potential effect on the creek, which runs 18 miles from the Santa Ana Mountains to Trestles, part of San Onofre State Beach south of San Clemente.
They said the proposed 16-mile extension would skirt two state campgrounds, allow Trestles to remain unspoiled and improve the creek's water quality.
"This is a creek that is dry for most of the year and only connects to the ocean when there's a large storm," said Jennifer Seaton, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Corridor Agencies. "The flow of the creek will be unchanged, and it won't harm the surfing break."
She said the toll road agency is proposing environmental upgrades such as adding catch basins where none now exist along a 2-mile stretch of Interstate 5. If the project is approved, Seaton said, it will have gone through a host of regulatory agencies responsible for protecting the water and the coast.
The effect of the environmental group's placement of the creek on its endangered list was unclear. "It's all about influence, and American Rivers understands the political process," said Mark Rauscher, a spokesman for the Surfrider Foundation, which nominated the waterway for inclusion.
The website listing the waterway, he said, will have links to the California Coastal Commission, allowing people to express their support.
"People love to hike, to surf and to camp, and American Rivers has weighed in on this issue," Rauscher said. "After today, everyone can log on to their website, click and do something for the environment."
Other waterways on this year's most-endangered list are New Mexico's Santa Fe River, Iowa River, Upper Delaware River in New York, White Salmon River in Washington, Neches River in Texas, Wisconsin's Kinnickinnic River, Neuse River in North Carolina, Lee Creek in Arkansas and Chuitna River in Alaska.