Yuba Highlands development beats appeals
Questionable water supplies, potential problems with sewer treatment, more traffic, air craft noise and impacts to wildlife were not enough reasons to sway Yuba County supervisors, who shot down appeals to the proposed Yuba Highlands development on environmental grounds.
The Yuba County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to reject two appeals filed against an environmental report for the project’s development plan Tuesday night during a five-hour meeting in front of a packed house of 250 people.
Representatives from environmental groups, the California Department of Transportation, state Fish and Game and the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District were among those present.
The decision comes days after the state attorney general, Jerry Brown Jr., sent a letter to the supervisors urging them to correct the report approved by the county’s planning commission in January. Brown said the report violates the California Environmental Quality Act because it ignores impacts to air quality and natural resources.
“They didn’t feel the issues rose to the level to stop the process,” said Russ Brown, public information officer for Yuba County.
Next, supervisors will rule on the project itself. A date for that hearing has not been set.
Fight not over
Those opposed to the project vowed to continue fighting to protect the area cradled between Beale Air Force Base and the Spenceville Wildlife Area near the Yuba/Nevada county line.
“We … will use every avenue available to make sure (this project) is defeated,” said Nevada County resident Laurie Oberholtzer, who is involved with Friends of Spenceville and the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society.
Some said Tuesday’s decision is an indicator of how the supervisors will vote later on the project itself. But lawyer William D. Kopper believed voting in favor of a weak environmental document proves different motives.
“I think there is a very good chance they don’t intend to approve it,” Kopper said. His clients include Yuba County residents and unions representing civilian workers at Beale Air Force Base.
Kopper and James P. Pachl filed an appeal in February after the county planning commission approved the project’s environmental report.
Pachl represents the Friends of Spenceville, Audobon Society, Sierra Club and South Yuba River Citizens League.
The project’s water supply is a “glaring weakness” because developers have not sought water rights to pump ground water from the Yuba goldfields, a source that, if used, could effect Yuba River flows, Pachl said.
“That could be potential for litigation,” Pachl said. “It’s common knowledge there is insufficient ground water in the region.”
Moving too fast?
The plan for the project was changed from a specific plan to an area plan shortly before the environmental report was passed in February.
“There’s no numbers. It’s just vague language,” Pachl said.
Critics say details on infrastructure have been deferred to later, which could put the county at risk of becoming responsible for steep maintenance costs for roads, water and sewer systems long after the developer has gone, Pachl said.
Also, the EIR uses outdated traffic studies, it fails to adequately assess how noise from air craft at Beale Air Force Base will effect the proposed 5,100 households and does not provide appropriate mitigation measures to ease impacts to local plants and wildlife, the appeals said.
For some Nevada County residents, the threat of urban sprawl in close proximity to a wildlife preserve doesn’t make sense.
“They don’t need this 1950s style, mega-commute, leap-frog development ruining some of the last undeveloped expanses of the Sierra foothills,” Oberholtzer said.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4231.
Fast facts on project
• Located within 3,000 acres of rural open grass land between the oak woodlands of Spenceville Wildlife Area and Beale Air Force Base.
• Proposal calls for 5,082 single and multi-family dwellings housing up to 15,000 people at full build-out.
• Plans include parks, schools, business parks, trails, open space and a golf course.
• Yuba County Commissioners certified the environmental impact report for the project area plan in January.
• Yuba County Supervisors rejected the appeals 3-2 Wednesday. No date has been set for supervisors to rule on the project itself.
– Laura Brown
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