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Report contradicts water quality study

Findings by toll road agency consultant are at odds with Surfrider Foundation's analysis of the 241 extension.

September 04, 2008|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

With a hearing to determine the fate of a proposed toll road through south Orange County a few weeks away, the agency backing the project issued a report Wednesday arguing that the new road would adequately protect water quality at San Onofre State Beach.

Plans proposed by the agency to protect the San Mateo Creek watershed and famous Trestles surf break from erosion and contaminated storm water "should do as good a job as needed," said Derrick Coleman, a senior project manager with environmental consulting firm Tetra Tech. Coleman conducted the toll road agency-funded review.

"Is it going to stop runoffs? No," he said. "Is it going to stop erosion? No, it can't completely control that either. It's going to be effective."

Coleman described a damning water quality analysis funded by the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group that opposes the 241 toll road extension, as deliberately confusing and "less than objective."

The review by Tetra Tech is the latest salvo in the long-simmering controversy between toll road advocates arguing for traffic relief and conservationists concerned about the environmental effects of the $1.3-billion project.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies' proposed 16-mile extension of California 241 would slice through the state park's watershed, connecting Rancho Santa Margarita with Interstate 5 near Basilone Road in north San Diego County.

The four- to six-lane highway would dramatically damage the "pristine" watershed, making it more susceptible to erosion, said Mark Lindley, senior associate with the environmental hydrology firm that conducted the water quality study for Surfrider. Over time, increased sediment would collect in San Mateo Creek, potentially affecting the rocky cobbles that help create Trestles' waves.

"The impacts of that project are much greater than what happens on the road itself," Lindley said.

The TCA and Coleman, who received $4,800 from the agency for the review, dispute Lindley's argument about sediment harming the flow of cobbles to the sea.

The agency has plans in place to limit polluted water entering the watershed, including catch basins that release storm water gradually and concrete blocks to diffuse flowing water, said Paul Bopp, TCA engineering manager. In July, the agency commissioned a similar review by an oceanography expert concluding the road would not harm the surf break.

The state Coastal Commission rejected plans for the road in February. After cancellation and uncertainty, a long-awaited U.S. Department of Commerce hearing to appeal that decision is scheduled Sept. 22 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

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