Conservation groups today filed a lawsuit in the US District Court here today against the Army Corps of Engineers and Diablo Grande Limited Partnership alleging numerous violations of federal environmental laws in the construction of a planned 29,500-acre “destination resort and residential community” in western Stanislaus County. The Diablo Grande property is situated west of Interstate 5, on land that provides prime habitat for several species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, including the San Joaquin kit fox and the California red-legged frog.
Developers have begun with the first of five phases of Diablo Grande’s construction in Oak Flat Valley, about 5 miles west of Patterson. At complete build-out, the project would include 5,000 residential units, six championship golf courses, a conference center, swim and tennis facilities, and shopping centers.
“This is a classic example of ‘piecemealing’ a project – that is, breaking it into small component parts and claiming that each part by itself has an insignificant impact, rather than evaluating the cumulative impacts of the overall project — which is specifically prohibited under federal environmental law,” noted Earthjustice attorney Mike Sherwood, who represents the plaintiffs. “Such a vast project could have huge adverse impacts to the environment, including several endangered species, but the Corps has never evaluated those impacts in a comprehensive way. That’s what we hope this suit will force them to do.”
The plaintiff groups, Protect our Water and the San Joaquin Wildlife/Raptor Rescue Center, allege that by issuing permits for building just one “phase” of the project at a time, the Army Corps of Engineers has failed to evaluate all the impacts that may occur as a result of the entire project. The groups demand that a complete federal environmental review be prepared before any further development can occur.
In addition, the plaintiffs allege that the developer is violating the Endangered Species Act by destroying habitat for and possibly killing endangered San Joaquin kit fox and California red-legged frogs. Under the ESA, a developer must obtain a permit to “take” listed species or habitat and must prepare a “habitat conservation plan” outlining how it will continue to protect the listed species. The Diablo Grande developer has not done so, yet the Army Corps has given the developer a green light to start construction despite the ESA’s requirements.
“For years, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Environmental Protection Agency have been telling Diablo Grande they need to comply with the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act before starting to build this project, but the developer has refused, and the Army Corps has turned a blind eye,” said Steve Burke of Protect Our Water.
“This project will not only destroy current kit fox habitat; it also puts a huge roadblock in the middle of an essential travel corridor for kit fox and other wildlife,” said Lydia Miller of the San Joaquin Wildlife/Raptor Rescue Center. “Allowing movement through this corridor helps insure the viability of the species and facilitates genetic exchange between kit fox populations to the north and south.”