December 3, 2009

Coastal Commission staff recommends stalling environmental clean-up efforts at hazardous site

By Coastal Commission staff recommends stalling environmental clean-up efforts at hazardous site

Author:  Paul J. Beard II

The staff at the California Coastal Commission has once again made clear that flexing the agency's regulatory muscles is far more important than even advancing its primary goal:  protecting coastal resources.

A property owner in the City of Eureka, California, has been directed by a state agency — the Regional Water Quality Control Board — to remediate contamination on the property, which involves excavating and removing some soil, covering and grading certain areas of the property, and creating and enhancing wetlands.  The property owner is more than happy to comply, and the City of Eureka granted it a "coastal development permit" to implement the state agency's order.  The City, in its findings supporting the issuance of a permit, stated that the property's environmental conditions constituted a public nuisance that had to be abated.

Surprisingly, the permit was appealed to the California Coastal Commission by two Commissioners and various "environmentalists," whose complaints center on the impact of the needed clean-up on wetlands and "aquatic organisms."  In the appellants' view, the fact that a state water quality control board and a local government both found the prescribed clean-up absolutely necessary is irrelevant.  And that fact is irrelevant to Coastal Commission staff, which has recommended to the Commission that it accept the appeals, set aside the City-issued permit, and reconsider the entire matter from scratch.

In other words, the Commission is set to intervene in — and cause substantial delay to — the process of cleaning up hazardous materials on a major site in Eureka (again, a declared "public nuisance"). 

Not only would the Commission be subverting its fundamental mission to protect coastal resources, but it would also be flouting its own governing statute — the Coastal Act.  The Act prohibits the Commission from taking any action that would interfere with a state water quality control agency's decision or with a local government's power to abate public nuisances.  Arguably, the Commission's mere acceptance of the appeals — a likely outcome at next week's hearing on the permit — itself would violate these provisions of the Act.

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