San Francisco, CA
At a hearing today in U.S. District Court, Martin LaLonde, counsel for the National Park Service, announced the service will withdraw its plans to reconstruct units of housing at Yosemite Lodge washed out in the winter of 1996-1997.
The hearing, held Friday morning in Judge Joseph Breyer’s courtroom, was to discuss whether the Sierra Club was required to post security for the preliminary injunction and plaintiff’s supplemental motion for preliminary injunction over a new sewer line construction. Judge Breyer first ruled that Sierra Club was not required to post security and NPS did not argue otherwise.
Judge Breyer told the parties that he was not inclined to prevent NPS from repairing a sewer line where there was potential for leakage into the environment. However, he also felt it would be inappropriate to allow NPS to build a new sewer line in a different location as part of the Lodge Plan development since he had already ruled that the Lodge Plan development could not move forward.
LaLonde, speaking via telephone, then informed the court and plaintiff that NPS is rescinding its decision to proceed with the Lodge Plan based on the 1997 Environmental Assessment (which plaintiff challenged in its lawsuit). NPS has not officially decided how to proceed, but will make a decision in the coming weeks.
However, NPS does intend to move forward with two elements of the Lodge Plan EA. First, it will complete the demolition and clean up of the flood damaged buildings in the Lodge Area. Second, NPS still wants to build the new sewer line. Although the existing sewer line is not currently leaking, they predict it will begin leaking at some point.
The construction project, known as the Lodge Plan, had generated huge controversy with environmentalists because of the planning used by the Park Service. On October 13, Judge Breyer issued a preliminary injunction forcing the National Park Service to halt realignment of a road and construction of buildings and parking lots in Yosemite Valley.
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorneys arguing for the Sierra Club claimed the Park Service was trying to use the flooding as an excuse to avoid including the public in the process of planning Yosemite’s future, and to do an end run around the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act — to prepare an environmental impact statement and examine alternatives to a proposed action.
The Lodge Plan would have put parking lots in five acres of previously undeveloped forest and meadow, move a road to the banks of the Merced River, build 440 rooms of lodging in an undeveloped area of the park, create visual intrusions for Park visitors seeking a natural wilderness experience, and create traffic bottlenecks. The construction, in total, would bring more urbanization into the valley, which violates the intent of the 1980 General Management Plan which was to remove vehicles from Yosemite Valley and restrict development to the periphery of the park so visitors can experience nature in the Valley without all the trappings of suburban development. Reconstruction of damaged elements of Yosemite Lodge failed to take into consideration a full range of reasonable alternatives and did not factor in the cumulative effects of development in Yosemite Valley.