A judge has refused to block a Southern California water agency’s controversial purchase of five islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Judge Barbara Kronlund in San Joaquin Superior Court declined to grant a temporary restraining order Friday to officials from San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties, who sued two weeks ago to keep the Metropolitan Water District from completing its $175 million purchase of the five islands.
Kronlund’s ruling doesn’t end the litigation, however. The deal’s opponents, including two environmental groups, will press the judge for a preliminary injunction halting the purchase at a May 19 hearing. Because Metropolitan doesn’t plan to complete the purchase until June, the May 19 hearing will prove pivotal, said Jonas Minton of the Planning and Conservation League, one of the environmental groups that joined the litigation.
While it hasn’t outlined a specific plan, Metropolitan has said it might use part of the property to store dirt and construction equipment for Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial Delta tunnels project, which would re-engineer the estuary to improve the reliability of water shipments to Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley. Elected officials in the Delta and many environmental groups are opposed to the tunnels, saying they will do little or nothing to help the Delta’s fragile ecosystem.
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The plaintiffs in the lawsuit say Metropolitan shouldn’t be able to buy the five islands without undergoing a California Environmental Quality Act review, a process that could take months. By purchasing the land, Metropolitan is trying to do “a piecemeal end-around” of the CEQA requirements, Minton said.
Metropolitan has said a land purchase shouldn’t require such a review, and it will comply with all environmental laws once it decides what to do with the land. The big agency, which serves 19 million Southern Californians, is buying the islands from Swiss conglomerate Zurich Insurance Group.