November 7, 2006 in Nation/World

Judge puts Yosemite projects on hold

Eric Bailey Los Angeles Times
 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A federal district court judge has ordered a halt to a broad slate of renovation projects in Yosemite Valley, stepping anew into a battle over the human imprint on one of America’s most heavily visited cathedrals of nature.

In a 25-page written ruling, Judge Anthony Ishii in Fresno ordered a halt to nine construction projects – including roadwork, hotel renovations and new RV sites – that are part of a long-planned $423 million upgrade of long-neglected visitor facilities.

Park officials say the projects are being held hostage by litigation brought by “fringe” environmental groups.

“These are projects the public has told us they want,” said Scott Gediman, a park spokesman.

Greg Adair of Friends of Yosemite Valley said the legal fight is necessary to turn back the clock on environmental degradation while thwarting a shift to upscale hotel rooms, reduction of family camping and prices that could push average Americans away.

“We hope for a park that has meaningful environmental protection and equitable social access,” he said. “What we’ve seen instead is this pandering to commercialism, this rush to do construction and this shortchanging of environmental laws.”

Ishii’s decision, issued Friday, marked the second time in recent years that environmental groups have won court victories to halt the park’s ambitious construction schedule.

In addition to the work stoppage, the judge ordered the park service to attempt for a third time to produce a legally sound management plan for the Merced River, which cleaves the popular, mile-wide valley.

Ishii criticized the park for rushing its most recent evaluation, suggesting such a planning effort should take at least two years. The judge set a hearing Jan. 9 to determine a timeline.

Ishii’s decision stems from an earlier ruling in July, when he concluded that the park violated the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and failed to follow federal environmental rules in its river protection plan. He also criticized park officials for not going far enough in conducting a user-capacity study, a planning document that some environmentalists hope will usher in limits on the number of daily visitors in the Yosemite Valley.


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