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Monterey County Steve Zmack


October 21 - December 30, 2014, outings


Ventana Chapter Opposes Ferrini Ranch project in Monterey County

October 2014

A proposal for a Combined Development Permit for new construction of a subdivision of about 870 acres into 212 lots for market rate single family homes, clustered market residential lots and 43 inclusionary units on Highway 68 near Toro Park is currently under consideration by the Monterey County Planning Commission. Also proposed is future development of winery related uses that would result in the removal of up to 921 protected Oak Trees and a Use Permit for development on slopes exceeding 30 percent.

The Chapter has submitted a letter opposing the project on the grounds that it is too large, would create urban sprawl and thus contribute to greenhouse gas emissions from excess single vehicle use. We believe this project is not needed as there are already 10,000 residential units approved but not yet constructed in the County, it would cause negative impacts to biological resources including species of special concern on site that cannot be mitigated and it would require water from the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin that has been over drafted for years. (See our letter as a PDF).


Carmel River Over drafting by Cal Am harms our water supply and threatens steelhead populations as shown in this photo of the Carmel River taken near Garland Ranch in Carmel Valley. (Photograph: John Dalessio).

Carmel River Mitigation Program Update

October 2014

As a result of the Cease and Desist Order (CDO) issued by the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB) against Cal Am, triggered by Sierra Club litigation, a moratorium on all new connections went into effect in April 2010. A mitigation program financed by Cal Am to ensure that endangered local steelhead populations (Oncorhychus mykiss) would thrive during a search for an improved water supply was part of this settlement agreement. This year, the settlement agreement was modified to make the State Coastal Conservancy the recipient and manager of these funds. This month, a list of projects planned through 2016 and totaling approximately $7,000,000 was released. They include: funding for removal of the Old Carmel River Dam, removal of the Sleepy Hollow Ford, improvements to the Sleepy Hollow Steelhead Rearing Facility Intake structure, implementation of the Carmel River Lagoon protective barrier project and implementation of a recycled water project to augment water in the lagoon.



Carmel Valley artist, Paola Berthoin gives a painting demonstration for Chapter members at her studio and garden which has been certified as National Wildlife Federation Certified Habitat. Ms. Berthoin has spent years creating stunning artwork and a book entitled
"A Passion for Place" celebrating the Carmel River and promoting its importance as endangered habitat for dozens of species.

Kahn Ranch

Monterey County Board of Supervisor Review Fracking Regulations

September 2014

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors began reviewing state hydraulic fracturing regulations at their September 23 Board Workshop. The Supervisors, County Staff, and about 100 members of the public heard a presentation by the California Department of Conservation's sub-agency the Department of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources or DOGGR.

The agency's presentation described, in brief, the structure of a deep hydraulic fracturing well and horizontal bores. They showed maps estimating the extent of the Monterey Shale formation in California, and described the tortured logic of the regulatory process set off by the adoption of CA Senate Bill 4 (SB4, from the 2013 state legislative session). With one slide DOGGR attempted to address how Monterey County's landscape could be changed by a new oil "play" or boom. The photo came from North Dakota where the massive Bakken Shale oil and gas play is taking place in an agricultural landscape. The Bakken Shale play can be seen from space. At night North Dakota looks like it has a massive new city. This is because so much natural gas is being flared off. Flaring is a cheap disposal method for getting rid of gas when there is no infrastructure to capture and ship it. Oil is the primary driver of the Bakken Shale play. This shocking waste of fossil fuels is one of the common side effects of petroleum and gas booms... [more]


Snowy Plover Sand City The plans for a mega resort in the dunes threatening this tiny snowy plover's home have been deemed deficient. (Photograph: Steve Zmak)

Plans for Monterey Bay Resort Deemed Deficient

September 2014

On August 29, California Coastal Commission (CCC) staff sent a letter alerting developer Ed Ghandour that materials submitted by his corporation to address requirements for the conditional Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for the Monterey Bay Shores Resort are deficient and need to be revised. Specifically, the letter lists deficiencies in several areas including an outdated topo map (1995) of the project site, an incoherent set of working plans, a lack of visual simulations for public view shed, lighting and signage as well as other necessary details and illustrations for the prior to issuance (PTI) notice.

Additionally and of primary importance to Sierra Club, the plans submitted do not adequately address specific provisions that enhance sensitive species habitats including Smith’s blue butterfly and Western snowy plover habitats. Snowy plovers, a federally-threatened species have been nesting on the project site for many years and could be wiped out by the development. Ventana Chapter has been following this development proposal since 1998 and we have submitted extensive testimony intended to protect endangered species at this location.



Salinas Vineyards The proposed Trio well is in the aquifer of vineyards and farm land; this water, by permit, is for agricultural replenishment needs in the Salinas Valley. (Photograph: Steve Zmak)

Trio Petroleum Well Permit Denied at Monterey County Planning Commission

August 2014

On July 30, a request from Trio Petroleum for a one-year temporary use permit to test-pump a pre-existing well off Jolon Road in Bradley that had been fracked by Venoco, Inc in 2008 was heard at the Planning Commission. Currently the site has 2 wells both with expired permits and both are in violation of their conditions that the site be restored to its predevelopment state.

Trio proposed to reopen the well and test specific zones within the existing bore-hole that is 10,400 feet deep to determine if commercial quantities can be produced. Furthermore, the well was being processed by a Categorical Exemption from CEQA review because it is an existing facility that proposes temporary operation and no expansion of existing facilities. It should also be noted that the area in question is suffering critically from the drought with less than 4% reserve in San Antonio and less than 19% reserve in Nacimiento so it is not clear where the water for this well injection and withdrawal will be coming from. The water in this aquifer which is adjacent to vineyards is, by permit, required to be used for agricultural replenishment in the Salinas Valley.

The well permit was denied 8-1 by the Commissioners. It was determined that more in-depth analysis should be required before Trio could proceed. A next step would likely be an Initial Study. Ventana Chapter has requested to be noticed by Monterey County Planning Department about all upcoming steps towards a permit.


Salinas Vineyards (Photograph: Steve Zmak)

A Renewable Energy Economy?

By Kevin Collins
August 2014

The USA is now the planet's largest producer of both crude oil and natural gas having surpassed both Saudi Arabia and Russia. This fact has been reported in both Bloomberg News and by the International Energy Agency. You may not have noticed any changes. Gasoline prices haven't fallen. There were no shouts of joy except perhaps in corporate boardrooms and maybe in bars where drilling rig workers relax after a day on the well pad. There was barely a peep out of the oil industry. These increases are accounted for by expanded Fracking in many states, especially North Dakota and Texas but also in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, California, Florida, about 20 states in all.

At the same time, global warming has become an indisputable fact, except on Fox News, and among politicians who prefer to invent their own alternative reality, funded by the fossil fuel industries. There is a strange splitting of issues taking place. Two very conflicting pieces of information run along, magically separated from each other in public discourse.

Retail gasoline prices didn't fall in part because oil is an internationally traded commodity and the big players are multi-national corporations that sell oil across international borders. There is now pressure to export this newly produced natural gas and oil from the USA to international markets. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Terminals are the most controversial because of the huge safety risks presented for anyone living or working near those ports and facilities that would receive, pressurize and load that gas into LNG tanker ships.

The Keystone XL pipeline is still looming. It would transport the most polluting (tar sands) oil on earth from Alberta Canada to New Orleans to be exported as refined products to international markets by sea.

Most of you will remember all the theatrical handwringing over the past forty years about the oil imports the USA needed to purchase from the Middle East and how this was supposed to imperil our national security. Of course we still buy oil from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Persian Gulf. The USA still uses more oil than it produces! Oil continues to be imported because the American appetite for crude is so immense. The USA now consumes 18,886,000 barrels of crude per day. That's nearly 800,000,000 gallons per day. That crude, once refined into gasoline and other products is being converted into an awful lot of carbon dioxide. The numbers for natural gas and coal are equally alarming.

How do we unite these two separate stories, on the one hand, expanded oil and gas production and consumption, and on the other, the world hurling itself into the coming catastrophe of flooded coastal cites, climate refugees, disrupted agriculture, famine and ecosystem collapse?

Well magically, in Western Europe, they have been building a renewable energy economy. We simply don't hear about that here in the United States... [more]


Sea Otter
Take the free bus tour to learn about munitions clean-up of former Fort Ord maritime chaparral.

An Invitation to Fort Ord Upcoming Bus Tour

By Scott Waltz
August 2014

Driving along General Jim Moore Avenue above Seaside, one notices an odd crosshatch pattern of bare ground amidst the hillside maritime chaparral of the former Fort Ord. Last year on the Army Fort Ord Environmental Cleanup bus tour, I learned that the crosshatch pattern reflected the minimally invasive clean-up effort. It was shaped in that way so as to leave as much precious chaparral as possible undisturbed. In fact, the bus tour was an engaging and informative explanation of how the Army is treating the delicate ecosystems of the former Fort Ord as it pursues its clean-up mission.

The Army bus tour is coming up again later in August and I would encourage any member interested in the former Fort Ord lands, or the process of munitions clean up in the region, to take advantage of this opportunity. The 90 minute guided bus tour of the clean up sites will take place on Saturday, August 23rd. Busses depart at 10:00 am and at 11:45 from Building 4522 Joe Lloyd Way on the former Fort Ord. Each of the two tours is the same. There are no reservations. If you have any questions, call the Fort Ord Community Relations Office for more details at (831) 393-1284. Go to www.FortOrdCleanup.com for a map to the tour departure location and other details.


Sea Otter
Big Oil is lobbying California lawmakers and DOGGR to frack Monterey County-say No!

Sierra Club CA Submits Comments to DOGGR on Fracking

August, 2014

Ventana Chapter leaders have been meeting with Monterey County Supervisors and submitting comments to County staff regarding our concerns for proposed fracking, acidization and other well stimulation techniques in Monterey County. We oppose these methods of oil and gas extraction and have requested a moratorium until more is known about the long term effects, especially the impacts to air quality, water supplies and seismic activity.

On June 13, the California Department of Conservation sent out public notice that revisions to the text of the proposed regulations and documents added to the rule making record as a result of SB 4 were available for review and comment by the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). This phase of the public comment period ran until July 28. It is expected to take between two to three more years for all the hearings, review, EIR and other steps before regulations could be put in place.

Because DOGGR never regulated fracking, water quality impacts and human health impacts now go unmeasured in California, but fracking in other states shows that fracking is a human health hazard for both oil and gas field workers and people living near oil and gas fields. Attached is the letter submitted by Sierra Club California on behalf of our nearly 380,000 members and supporters. Please read it and consider sending your own letters to elected officials and the press.
(See Sierra Club CA letter to DOGGR here).


Sea Otter
This sea otter freed himself quickly from this dangerous plastic bag in Monterey Bay. Other sea life may not be so fortunate. Help Ventana Chapter ban these bags now! (Photographer: Steve Zmak).

View from the Dune by Steve Zmak, July 15, 2014

July, 2014

HEART-BREAKING SCENE—I was reminded by the importance of banning single- use plastic bags as I watched this otter in the Monterey Harbor twist, twirl and splash about while trying to get this plastic bag off its head. Single-use plastic causes great suffering and death among sea life, even in such a protected area as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. If you’ve ever attended a local coastal clean-up, you know the vast amount of pollution washing up on our beaches includes large quantities of single-use plastic bags and single-use polystyrene packaging. Even though several of our coastal cities have passed bans such as Monterey and Carmel, and several more are planning on signing onto a Monterey County ban such as Marina, unless all communities ban it, this hazard will continue to find its way into our treasured ocean. While this otter eventually set himself free with much applause by helpless onlookers, you can help ensure an end to episodes like this by urging the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to pass the Reusable Bag Ordinance at their meeting on July 29. Please email your comments to the County Clerk of the Board, .

Ventana Chapter member Steve Zmak is a commercial advertising and fine art photographer based in Marina, California, available for assignments, projects and workshops: .


Proof of Access Ordinance Approved at the Planning Commission

July 2014

Ventana Chapter supported the "Proof of Access" non-coastal ordinance (PLN060127) proposed as an amendment to Monterey County zoning approved unanimously by the Planning Commission on July 9. This is an important topic as over 50% of the roads in the unincorporated areas of Monterey County are totally or partially private. What exists now is not working. When a developer fills out a project application for the Planning Department, he is not required to do anything special because his project is on a private road. Neighbors on that private road may or may not be notified because the notice only goes to those living within 300 feet of the project. Depending on the project, it may go to the local Land Use Advisory Committee. Neighbors may or may not get notice about the LUAC meeting.

The new ordinance moves the question of access to the front of the application process. The applicant (developer) is required to provide the following information with any project: a copy of the private road agreement, if applicable; a copy of the private road maintenance agreement, if applicable; and a site plan showing existing access limits and minimum requirements of the local Fire Authority and the Public Works Department. If these requirements are not met, the applicant must demonstrate the ability to obtain access necessary to meet this minimum.

The Planning Director then determines if the project is exempt from the ordinance (example a single family home). If it is not exempt, the Planning Director provides notice of the project, within 10 days of the application submittal, to all easement holders and interested parties on that private road (not limited to 300 feet).

Then, these parties, easement holders and interested parties have 30 days from mailing of the notice to state their objections, if any. The applicant and all the interested parties are encouraged to work together to resolve issues. If over 50% of the interested parties still object, before a permit is issued, the County will require adequate documentation that the dispute has been resolved. This improved process is now more transparent and even-handed for all parties.

The Board of Supervisors will hear this issue on July 22. We recommend support.


Forest Before
OR...
Forest After

Redwood Forest Logging Plan Causes Uproar in Boulder Creek

By Kevin Collins
June 2014

Roughly a year ago the Santa Cruz County staff responsibility for Timber Harvest Plan Review was moved from the County Department of Environmental Health to the Planning Department.

Unfortunately all of the institutional memory and knowledge about this crucial County responsibility has been lost from the Planning Department through retirements and staff resignations. It has been many years since the Planning Department was involved in logging permit review.

Fully 25% of the entire land area of Santa Cruz County is zoned for Timber Production. This includes an area from the ocean to the Santa Clara County line totaling 111 square miles of mountain terrain. The most valuable and sought after lumber is of course from redwood trees. But Douglas fir are also cut here and it is common for timber logging to be followed on the same parcel by the cutting and sale of hardwood trees, primarily for firewood sales.

During the peak of logging activity in Santa Cruz County in the 1990s, roughly 3000 acres a year were being logged annually. Logging here is, by state law, limited to "selection." The rules allow for 60% of all conifer trees 18 inches in diameter and larger to be felled every 14 years. There is also a 10 year "re-entry" rule. A 50% limit applies to the cutting of conifer trees from 12 to 18 inches in diameter. Other rules apply to streamside areas. There is no clear limit on the felling of hardwood trees such as oak and madrone... [more]


Coastal Commission Approval of Sand City Resort and Condominium Project Undermines Rare Species Recovery Plan

April 2014

On April 10, on the second day of a 9 hour hearing, the California Coastal Commission gave conditional approval to the proposed Monterey Bay Shores Resort in Sand City. This project has been contested by the Sierra Club since it was first proposed in 1998 (Sierra Club litigation timeline PDF here). The development would put a 1.3 million square foot, 368 unit hotel and condominium complex with underground parking spaces for nearly 1,000 cars into the fragile dune landscape of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Nearly 700,000 cubic yards of dune sand or 73% of the habitat would be disturbed by bulldozers and trucks. The site is wedged in between a State Park and a Regional Park as well as nearby to another proposed hotel site. The Commission has twice before denied this project a Coastal Development Permit. However after a complex series of lawsuits, the Commission, under pressure from the Attorney General's office, decided to grant the permit with conditions.

The proposed building site is within the highly unstable Monterey dune ecosystem and it harbors three federally listed endangered species, the Pacific coast population of the Western Snowy Plover, the Smith's Blue Butterfly and the Monterey Spineflower. An April 7th letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (PDF letter here) states that about one third of the site is within designated critical habitat for the Western Snowy Plover. The Service calculates that the project will result in 88% of the habitat being disturbed above the high tide line and 38% being permanently destroyed by construction. This habitat degradation may constitute harm to the species if there is loss to coastal plover populations and may result in a "Take" as defined under Section 3 (19) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The plover currently nests in the sand, both on the beach and in the dune areas of the proposed site. A tiny beach bird, it weighs less than 2 ounces. Once the eggs hatch, the chicks, unable to fly for a month, soon begin to wander the beach feeding off insects under the watchful eyes of their parents. Plover chicks often feed at the high water debris line, called the "wrack line" near the edge of the extent of high tide waves. As Snowy Plovers are so small, they cannot protect their chicks from this massive increase in the presence of humans, pets, vehicles and human-activity attracted predators that will access the beach from this new development. A hotel/condo project with hundreds of guests and year-round residents sited directly within plover critical habitat is a major problem for this rare species. There are only about 2,200 of these birds left in all of coastal California.

The torturous lengthy hearing was taken up by back and forth arguments between the developer, his attorney, and the Commission. These discussions centered on the conditions the Commission staff had recommended be placed upon the permit. These "conditions" ranged between limits upon night lighting and windows (that lead to bird strike kills) to a contentions argument about how to build foundations that are expected to be undermined by shoreline erosion and sea level rise.

In other words this hotel/condo proposal is expected to be eventually washed away by the Pacific Ocean and the Coastal Commission staff did not want to recommend approval of a permit that would leave behind concrete foundations buried in the beach. One condition requires that parts of the hotel/condo project be removed once breaking waves come within a short distance of the hotel. (See Coastal Engineer Dr. Thornton's erosion analysis PDF here).

The developer has proposed his own plan to protect habitat for wildlife and rare plants; however experts engaged by the Sierra Club disputed the practicality and effectiveness of the developer's plan. We regard this plan as a smoke screen meant primarily to confuse the issues. It is clear to us that this hotel/condo project will be very destructive to wildlife and rare plants. Structures that are expected to be washed away should not be built in the first place. Sierra Club will continue our efforts to protect wildlife and stop this project from being built.


Blog: View from the Dune by Steve Zmak, April 14, 2014

April 2014

Snowy Plover
Rare Western snowy plover nesting now in the beachfront dunes in Sand City. (Photograph: Steve Zmak)

Western snowy plovers are challenging to photograph. First, they're federally listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act with dwindling rare habitat so just finding them is the first hurdle. Second, they are easily confused with the more plentiful sanderlings that do not have the black head markings. Third, they're small, well camouflaged, and very fast. Once I spot one or a group, I have to get down on my stomach and crawl very slowly towards them. I do this when they aren't looking at me. When they do turn and look at me, that’s when I click. Then move and little closer; click. Move a little closer; click click click, but careful not to disturb them. They're very sensitive to intruders such as humans and dogs when they're nesting March through September. I found 3 on the beach less than 2 weeks ago where the proposed Ghandour 39-acre Monterey Shores Resort would remove more of the western snowy plover's habitat, so don’t wait too long to view them there. You can also ignore the "No Trespassing" signs posted on the gate at the base of Sand City's biggest dune. The Coastal Commission ruled them to be illegally posted some years ago.

Ventana Chapter member Steve Zmak is a commercial advertising and fine art photographer based in Marina, California available for assignments, projects and workshops: .




Sierra Club Submits Letter Opposing Monterey Bay Shores Resort to California Coastal Commission

April 2014

Plover and erosion overlaysCLICK TO ENLARGE
This graphic shows the negative impacts of the Project in the dunes on western snowy plover nests. It also gives the areas of predicted coastal erosion from sea-level rise. Data provided by conservation biologists. (Graphic design by Steve Zmak).

Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and Audubon have drafted comments for the upcoming hearing at the California Coastal Commission scheduled for April 9, 10 and 11. Chapter members will be attending the hearing and speaking on our behalf.

This massive development will occur on beachfront land currently undeveloped and used by the western snowy plover, a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Due to significant concerns with the Project detailed in our attached comments (PDF here | See also comments from Peter R. Baye Ph.D.), these groups urge the Commission to deny Project approval because the Commission has failed to meet its obligations under CEQA by not analyzing all Project impacts on the plover, including increased public access to western snowy plover habitat, beach erosion, sea level rise and cumulative impacts from neighboring property. The Commission has also failed to adopt all feasible mitigation measures for the Project and the Project, as currently proposed, will result in the likely "take" of the threatened western snowy plover, an important coastal resource... [more]




FORA Vote Leaves Sierra Club Environmental Protections in Reuse Plan

March 2014

On Friday March 14, the FORA (Fort Ord Reuse Authority) Board vote on Consistency with the Monterey County 2010 General Plan which the Sierra Club opposed was DENIED, a victory for environmental protections. The FORA Board voted 6-6 to adopt the FORA staff Resolution Attachment A, Consistency Determination between the General Plan and the Fort Ord Reuse Plan. When a vote results in a tie, the vote fails so the Consistency Determination failed.

We opposed this "determination of consistency" and believe that the FORA Board should require that the County amend the 2010 General Plan to be consistent with the 1997 Reuse Plan for several reasons we outlined in our letter by attorney Thomas N. Lippe (PDF attached). County staff must now create redline draft revisions, verify CEQA requirements are met, hold a Board of Supervisors hearing and then back to FORA for a vote of consistency. The Chapter will be monitoring this closely.

Sierra Club wishes to thank FORA Board members Supervisor Lou Calcagno, Supervisor Jane Parker, Marina City Council member Frank O'Connell, Marina City Council member Gail Morton, Carmel City Council member Victoria Beach and Monterey City Council member Nancy Selfridge for their votes on behalf of environmental protection at Fort Ord.


Kahn Ranch

Stunning Carmel Valley and Wilderness views from a recent Chapter hike on the Manzanita Trail at Kahn Ranch. Hikers can reserve a free access permit on line at the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District website: http://www.mprpd.org/index.cfm/id/31/Access-Permit-Application/



Jacks Peak signNew interpretive board at Jacks Peak Park created by the FJPP Outreach Committee showing native plants and wildlife found in the Forest. (Photograph: Steve Pendlay).
 

Spring in Jacks Peak Park

March 2014

Everyone is asking, "Where’s our beautiful yellow pollen that announces the spring courtship of the Monterey pines?" Yes, the candles are showing, but the sap flow is weak right now. Yet, new cones will be growing soon, and many plants, animals and birds are arriving for the warmth and sun. Indian soap plants are sending their wavy, thin leaves out into the pathways, and the Fremont star lilies are also re-appearing. The fuchsia-flowered gooseberries are greening up, and white-tailed deer, not often seen in the Park over the last several years, are rummaging through the new, green shoots, ignoring the dried grasses from last year. The small seed-eaters, like the nuthatches and chickadees, flit through the oak and pine undergrowth. Poison oak is still sporting its deceptive winter sticks, but a few early leaves are a stunning, innocent, bright green.

Friends of Jacks Peak Park's new Outreach CommitteeFriends of Jacks Peak Park's new Outreach Committee. From left: Katie Hart, Ventana Chapter leader and FJPP sponsor Mary Pendlay, Michael Layne and Elizabeth Lambert. (Photograph: Steve Pendlay).

At the western kiosk, a beautiful array of pictures cover the bulletin board next to the map, welcoming visitors with images of the most popular Monterey pine forest inhabitants. The rear of the kiosk now presents specific information and pictures of the Monterey pine forest. Chapter leader Mary Pendlay and three student volunteers from the CSUMB Service Learning Institute have created new public outreach media, which include the bulletin boards for the kiosk; a 12 page color booklet about the Park, Monterey pine forest and history, soon to be published; and an educational power point presentation for middle and high school science students about the pine forest and its habitat. Many thanks to CSUMB students Elizabeth Lambert, Michael Layne and Katie Hart for their hard work and excellent projects, and to Laura Lee Lienk for her support through her "Environmental Interpretation" course. The Friends of Jacks Peak Park (FJPP) and the local community continually look for ways to celebrate the unique nature of Jacks Peak Park and the means to share it. Please join the docents every second Saturday of the month at 11 a.m. for a leisurely one hour tour through the largest, native, contiguous stand of Monterey pines in the world.
(See Monterey County Parks for more information)




BLM HabitatInner Coast Range habitat with a mosaic of vegetation including Chaparral, Oak and Foothill Pine Woodland on BLM land near the Fort Hunter-Liggett military base in Monterey County. (Photograph: Nikki Nedeff).

Chapter Submits Comments to BLM Regarding the Dangers of Fracking

February 2014

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently soliciting comments to conduct studies of the potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and other oil drilling activities in central California for the 284,000 acres of public land under the jurisdiction of the Hollister Field Office. The resulting Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will evaluate the effects and risks of fracking in the Monterey Shale, an area stretching from Santa Cruz to Ventura Counties. BLM is also seeking statewide science review of potential oil and gas drilling impacts on the environment and geology of California, including the potential seismic impacts of drilling in a state that is constantly subjected to earthquakes.

The decision to conduct EIS review comes after a federal judge gave a victory to a Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) lawsuit which challenged BLM's decision to auction off about 2,500 acres to oil companies. The Court found that BLM had violated the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA; that they were using out of date environmental assessment and that the new drilling techniques warranted updated studies. The EIS process is likely to take about two years.

Attached are the Chapter's comments emphasizing the potential negative effects fracking will have on the environment and our dwindling water supplies. (PDF here)



Fort OrdAerial view of the lush forests and natural visual resources at Fort Ord. (Photograph: Steve Zmak).

Chapter Retains Legal Counsel to Object to
Weakening Environmental Protections at Fort Ord

January 2014

Ventana Chapter has retained San Francisco attorney Thomas N. Lippe to represent the Chapter in its challenge to recent events at the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) Board that could weaken the environmental protections we included in the Fort Ord Reuse Plan by way of our 1998 Settlement Agreement, known as Chapter 8 of the Master Resolution.

The Chapter has been working to protect the environment at Fort Ord since the Fort Ord Reuse Authority was established in 1994. In 1997, the Club filed a lawsuit challenging FORA's adoption of the Fort Ord Reuse Plan and the Environmental Impact Report for the Reuse Plan. The Club and FORA settled that case by FORA agreeing to adopt a "Master Resolution" governing FORA's certification of the local general plans adopted by the City of Marina, the City of Seaside, and Monterey County. The Master Resolution includes a mandatory requirement (in Master Resolution section 8.02.010), that FORA disapprove the "consistency" of any local general plan that meets any of six specified criteria.

The Sierra Club is concerned because, in drafting its new General Plan, Monterey County altered or omitted many important, mandatory policies and programs of the Base Reuse Plan that are essential for protecting the environment. These alterations and omissions fundamentally change the County's legal obligations when it reviews future development entitlements, because the changes transform mandatory requirements of the Reuse Plan into discretionary decisions by the County.

Currently, the FORA Board, based upon legal advice from its outside counsel, is poised to adopt an interpretation of Master Resolution section 8.02.010 that will severely weaken environmental protection at Fort Ord. This interpretation is designed to allow the Board to approve the consistency of the Monterey County General Plan with the Fort Ord Reuse Plan when it is anything but "consistent." The attached letter from the Chapter's legal counsel, Thomas N. Lippe explains these complex issues in more detail. (PDF here)



Chapter Appeals Sand City Approval of The Collection Resort to
the California Coastal Commission

January 2014

Snowy PloverSierra Club has concerns about the future of this federally-listed Threatened Western snowy plover with planned developments in coastal dunes at Sand City. (Photographer Brian L. Sullivan).

Ventana Chapter's attorney, Larry Silver has filed an appeal with the California Coastal Commission over the approval by the Sand City City Council of the The Collection at Monterey Bay resort planned for 26 acres in the dunes west of Highway 1. As proposed, the 340 unit resort is to be constructed in two phases: the first phase will include 105 time share units and the second phase will include a 235-unit hotel with a restaurant, conference center and wellness spa. There will be over 600 parking spaces.

The appeal says that the project as approved is inconsistent with the City's certified Local Coastal Program (LCP) policies including those related to hazard avoidance, protection of public views and natural resources, public access and adequacy of public services (traffic). The FEIR is inadequate and does not address protection of Seacliff buckwheat or Western snowy plover at the site. The project does not avoid and minimize significant impacts to important public views of the Pacific Ocean and the Monterey Peninsula. And the FEIR does not adequately address traffic access and shoreline hazards at the site.

Furthermore, the development is not sited to ensure safety and dune stability over its economic lifetime as required by the City's LCP. Portions of the project would be threatened by coastal erosion over time and the FEIR does not address this high risk scenario. Also, the FEIR does not discuss the effects on public access of re-routing the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail to accommodate this project.

California Coastal Commission Chair Steven Kinsey and Commissioner Mary Shallenberger have also filed an appeal of the Collection proposed development to the CCC. They argue that "the approved project is inconsistent with provisions of Sand City's certified Local Coastal Program with respect to hazards, natural visual resources, development and public access, and is also inconsistent with the public access and recreation policies of the Coastal Act."



Santa Cruz CountyThe new fracking moratorium for Santa Cruz County will protect our homes, farms and water supply. (Photograph: Kenn Reiller).

Santa Cruz County Moves to Adopt Fracking Moratorium

December 2013

On September 9th, 2013 the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors took a vote to move forward with a moratorium on all oil or gas development in the County. In October, after the necessary public noticing period had passed, the Board put a moratorium in force for all the unincorporated areas of the County. This begins the process of amending the Santa Cruz County General Plan to establish a moratorium on Fracking.

Sierra Club California and various Sierra Club Chapters from the Ventana Chapter south to the Angeles Chapter are organizing to confront the environmental threats posed by this new oil drilling technology. In the Monterey Shale "tight oil" or shale oil is the target of the fossil fuel industry, rather than natural gas. A "well stimulation" technique called acid stimulation is likely to be the extraction method of choice for the oil industry in the Monterey Shale. Acid stimulation is intended to chemically melt rock when it is combined with the high-pressure hydraulic fracturing techniques that began to be widely used in the 1990s. Contrary to oil industry public relations, Fracking is a new technology with a relatively short track record. Many problems have been exposed. Once the international price of oil rises again, drilling in the Monterey Shale is likely to increase rapidly unless our local governments act to prevent it... [more]


Sobranes Hike

 

Chapter hikes are a great way to learn about the world around us. Members here are looking at a Painted Lady butterfly held by lepidopterist/ornithologist Chris Tenney on a hike in Soberanes Canyon led Lynn Bomberger shown right.
(Photographer: Mary Conway).




Chapter Urges Sand City City Council to Deny Collection at Monterey Bay Project

November 2013

Sand City City Council will hold a public hearing on the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for a proposed development, Collection at Monterey Bay on 26 acres in the dunes west of Highway 1 on December 17. King Ventures of San Luis Obispo has plans for a 340 unit resort to be constructed in two phases: the first phase will include 105 time share units and the second phase will include a 235-unit hotel with a restaurant, conference center and wellness spa. There will be over 600 parking spaces.

Ventana Chapter retained attorney Larry Silver of the California Environmental Law Project and coastal ecologist Dr. Peter Baye to provide comments. Our position is to request the City to deny the Project a Coastal Development permit (CDP) and not to certify the FEIR... [more]


Cone Peak, Ventana Wilderness   Chapter members Nikki Nedeff and Terry Hallock enjoying the views from Cone Peak. Kudos to Mike Heard of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance trail crew for clearing this spectacular route to the Ventana Wilderness second highest peak.

Salinas Valley Twilight The Salinas Valley is under pressure for private oil and gas leasing. This will threaten prime agricultural land, water supplies and human health as well as destroy the unique natural landscape of our region. Photograph: Steve Zmak

Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity Win a Major Fracking Decision for Central California

On August 2, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it would halt two hydraulic fracturing leases for oil drilling on federal lands managed by their Hollister BLM office and covering several counties including Monterey. This decision came in the wake of a legal victory earlier this year in a suit brought by Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which challenged the BLM's decision to auction off about 2,500 acres of land in Monterey County to oil companies. The BLM has now further agreed to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate the effects and risks of fracking in the Monterey Shale, a region stretching from Ventura to Santa Cruz Counties... [more]


Snowy PloverFederally listed threatened Pacific Coast Western snowy plover which nests locally on Marina and Sand City beaches (courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service).

Chapter Seeks Protection for Western Snowy Plover

By Rita Dalessio

Ventana Chapter will be working to protect the federally listed threatened Pacific Coast western snowy plover as plans are developed for a sustainable Monterey Peninsula desalination plant.

Proposals for a new Regional Water Project for Monterey Peninsula are currently undergoing review by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and other agencies. Next steps could be a search for a suitable location for desalination test wells along the coast. Under consideration is a portion of the Cemex sand mining property in Marina... [more]



A History of Sierra Club Efforts to Protect the Carmel River

Carmel River Carmel River from the Boronda Bridge in Carmel Valley (Ventana Chapter file photo).

For over 22 years the Ventana Chapter has been litigating on behalf of the public trust resources of the Carmel River. We have been represented by attorney Larry Silver, and consulted with hydrologist and fishery biologist Dr. John Williams.

Following years of futile negotiations, in March 1991, Sierra Club filed a complaint with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) protesting California American Water's (CAW) continued over drafting of the Carmel River. Our complaint alleged that CAW's pumping from the Carmel River's subsurface flow was without lawful right and that its water diversions threatened the survivability of the local steelhead population (Oncorhychus mykiss). During twelve days of hearings by SWRCB, Sierra Club presented scientific evidence that CAW's diversions were unlawful and that CAW was producing water from the Carmel River alluvium without a permit from SWRCB. Sierra Club also showed that these practices were damaging the public trust resources of the Carmel River... [more]




Chapter Submits Comments to State Regulatory Board Regarding Lack of Oversight for Fracking; Public Concern Grows

Monterey County Fracking Does Monterey County need a fracking rig here? Big Oil says yes... we say No! Photograph: Steve Zmak

May 2013
The California Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has recently come under fire for its lack of regulation of "fracking," the process of hydraulic fracturing, an oil and natural gas extraction technique that involves injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and assorted chemicals into the ground. In October 2012, Sierra Club and Earth Justice sued DOGGR to block approval of new oil and gas wells because State regulators have allegedly failed to consider or adequately analyze risks of fracking. This year the agency held five state-wide hearings to receive public input on a "discussion draft" report on proposed regulations. The final hearing was held in Monterey. Chapter members joined a group of about 70 participants from Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz Counties to voice concerns about fracking in the 1750 square mile area which contains Monterey shale... [more]


New Sierra Club Lawsuit Aims to Protect More Public Lands from Fracking

In the wake of a landmark legal victory against fracking on public lands, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a new lawsuit on April 18 challenging the auction of an additional 17,000 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acres in Monterey, San Benito, and Fresno counties for drilling and fracking.

The lawsuit of which the Ventana Chapter is a sponsor, says the government did not fully consider the dangers fracking poses to watersheds, endangered wildlife and air quality before auctioning off the leases in December... [more]


Sam Farr and Conservation Committee Chapter Executive Committee members met this month with Congressman Sam Farr to discuss our conservation work.
From left to right: Dale Agron, Rich Fox, Rita Dalessio, Congressman Farr, Scott Waltz and Neil Agron.

BLM parcel 15 South Monterey County land near Lockwood-San Ardo Road looking northeast across BLM Lease Parcel 15 towards the Salinas Valley. Parcel 15 was auctioned off in December by BLM in spite of Sierra Club and CBD protests. Sierra Club is considering litigation in federal court. This is an area of prime inner Coast Range habitat with a mosaic of vegetation including Chaparral, Oak and Foothill Pine Woodland. (Photo: Nikki Nedeff)

Sierra Club and CBD Win Major Fracking Lawsuit Victory:
Federal Judge Rules that BLM Failed to Consider Effects of Fracking on Oil Leases

On April 7, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) won a challenge to Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) September 2011 mineral lease sale, which leased roughly 2700 acres for oil and gas development in Fresno and Monterey counties.

Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal granted the Club's motion for summary judgment on the primary issue, which was that BLM failed to consider the effects of fracking.

The potential consequences of this ruling are very significant, as Monterey County is believed to have one of the largest deposits of shale oil in the nation.

In issuing his ruling, the judge stated that fracking both makes oil and gas production more likely, and it increases the risk of oil and gas production that does occur... [more]





Make a contribution to the Sierra Club today - stop fracking in Monterey County!

Your local Sierra Club Chapter and Group needs financial support to carry on our fight to protect the spectacular coast, valleys, and mountains.

We cannot fight for endangered and at risk wildlife without money. We cannot save precious forests, mountains, watersheds, and open spaces without money.

We know that you care about the environment from your membership in the Club. Now we need your help.

Much of the work of the Club consists of non-glamorous, roll-up-your-sleeves labor. Volunteers study EIRs and make comments; activists get government staff reports and keep tabs on proposed developments and policy changes; sometimes the Club files suit.

Please help us continue to protect and preserve the Central Coast. To make a donation please send a check made out to ‘Sierra Club' to

Sierra Club Ventana Chapter, P O Box 5667, Carmel, CA 93921-5667

Contributions to the Sierra Club are not tax deductible. To send tax deductible contributions, which mainly support legal actions when they become necessary, make your check out to ‘Sierra Club Foundation' instead.



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