Author: Brandon Middleton
In July 2009, PLF filed an amicus curiae brief in Butte Environmental Council v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In that case, local and federal agencies negotiated for several years years towards the approval of a business park development in Redding, California.
But with the Stillwater Business Park project all but complete, the Butte Environmental Council filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the much-needed project would violate the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act due to minimal effects on vernal pool species. PLF's amicus brief asked the Ninth Circuit to allow the project to go forward.
Fortunately, last week the Ninth Circuit dismissed BEC's lawsuit, holding that all concerned parties had complied with their obligations under federal law. A good victory, to be sure, but as a Redding Record Searchlight editorial explains, it is not one without costs:
The 9th Circuit made the right call. The plaintiffs essentially
complained that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Fish and Wildlife
Service rolled over for the city, but the facts put the lie to that
argument. It took years of study and haggling to win Stillwater’s
federal permits, and by the end of the negotiations half the property
was set aside as a permanent reserve where not so much as a bike path
can be built.
But even that wasn’t enough to satisfy the Butte Environmental
Council, which has long advocated preservation of the Central Valley’s
remaining vernal pools. To some that’s just a fancy word for mud
puddles, but by any name they are home to federally protected species
including the fairy shrimp and slender Orcutt grass. They’re also vital
for more charismatic species such as migrating waterfowl.
The lawsuit didn’t stop Stillwater’s development, though the
plaintiffs tried. But it did pile still more legal costs on the city,
which had already spent plenty of the taxpayers’ money on the business
park. It sent out a warning to federal agencies that if they’re even a
bit friendly to a local government, they could end up in court. And it’s
one more sign to potential businesses about the sort of climate they’d
be entering. Would you invest your money when you could be tied up in
court over slender Orcutt grass?
It’s easy to blame the local, state or federal bureaucracies for our
problems — and, to be sure, they do their share. But it’s worth
remembering that much of the red tape, including endless litigation,
that ties up development in California doesn’t stem from rogue
government, but from citizens.