By Deb Murphy
In February 2013, two environmental groups filed suit against Inyo County and the Adventure Trails project. That suit was resolved when the County agreed to go ahead with a California Environmental Quality Act review of the impacts of combined-use on county roads and the impact of increased Off Highway Vehicle use on public lands.
Almost a year-to-date of that settlement, the Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a second suit requesting the courts set aside the Board of Supervisors adoption of the Adventure Trails System pilot project and “suspend all activity” relating to the project on the grounds the CEQA and Environmental Impact Report were inadequate.
“I’m disappointed a group outside this area can influence a project that went through the public process,” said County Board of Supervisors Chair Matt Kingsley, reached by phone late last week. “We went through this process in the open. The fact that we reached a compromise that everyone seemed satisfied with makes this (lawsuit) even more disappointing.” The suit probably came as no surprise to Kingsley who closed the public meeting on the project, January 22, by saying he hoped there would be no lawsuit as a result of the board’s unanimous approval of a seven-route pilot project.
Both Kingsley and Adventure Trails’ Randy Gillespie were concerned the state legislation that gave impetus to the project would sunset before an effective evaluation of the project could be made. The project, that could be up and running by mid-summer, sunsets in January 2017.
“The saddest thing,” said Gillespie “is that OHV use will continue with no education and no law enforcement.” That education will focus on new OHV use in the area pointing out sensitive habitat and cultural resource areas and discouraging off-trail activity.
The compromise, Gillespie noted, took the project from 72 combined-use routes to 36 and finally down to the seven approved by the Board. “People told us they were concerned about OHVs in residential neighborhoods,” he said. “So we removed those routes.”
The suit specifically calls for the removal of signage, “Cowboy Kiosks” that have already popped up in the valley. The suit refers to the kiosks as “ORV sign posts” and states “The Planning Department approved the Cowboy Kiosks encroachment permit without any environmental review.”
Encroachment permits, issued by the Department of Public Works, are considered an administrative action that follows standard procedure and does not trigger environmental review. The signs were put up by the Adventure Trails System advocates, designed “to fit the image” of the community, according to Gillespie, and funded with a separate Green Sticker grant. The kiosks incorporate arrows with end destinations, like Keoughs or Coyote, but no reference to a specific mode of transportation.
While speakers at the Supervisors’ January 22 meeting were evenly divided between proponents and opponents, the primary objection by opponents was the adequacy of the County’s CEQA. The lawsuit alleges the documents “violate the requirements of CEQA Guidelines as substantial evidence does not support the County’s Findings.” The fact some routes are, allegedly, longer than 10 miles is cited as a violation of the enabling legislation. The brief goes on to state the County did not revise and circulate the Draft EIR after aerial surveys were completed to establish baseline data. Mitigation and monitoring are also cited as cause for the action.
County staff cannot comment on litigation, but the project is still moving forward as Inyo County Counsel Margaret Kemp-Williams and her staff are taking the procedural steps required by California’s public resource code.