Soapbox

We deserve to hear both sides of debate on Delta tunnels

An aerial photo shows the Courtland area that would be affected by the proposed Delta water tunnels and intakes.
An aerial photo shows the Courtland area that would be affected by the proposed Delta water tunnels and intakes. Sacramento Bee file

In December 2013, state and federal agencies released 40,000 pages of consultant-prepared analysis and advocacy for the Delta tunnels as part of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. The water tunnels are the most controversial public works project in California history.

The BDCP website announced that public comments received during the review process would be made available upon the release of the final environmental impact report. But releasing the comments after the final EIR/EIS – after the horse is out of the barn – is calculated to hide the ball during the time when the public can review and comment. Organizations and individuals seeking the “other side of the story” – the adverse environmental and economic consequences of the water tunnels – are denied access to information.

This denial extends to critical comments by key public agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the State Water Resources Control Board, and by public interest organizations such as Friends of the River, Restore the Delta, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and the League of Women Voters of California.

The state’s spokesman now claims: “Putting questions out there that we haven’t yet had the opportunity to thoroughly vet and answer; we felt it would be a disservice to do that.”

That sounds like a government response in China, not America. We contend that the state and federal BDCP agencies are hiding the public comments to hide the negative environmental and economic impacts of the tunnels from taxpayers and ratepayers.

Friends of the River demanded and obtained copies of the hidden comments under the Freedom of Information Act. We recently completed posting all the comments made by public agencies and non-government organizations.

A total of nearly 300 comment letters are now posted, regardless of whether they oppose or favor the tunnels. Since the federal and state BDCP agencies are not airing both sides of the issue, Friends of the River is now doing the government’s job of informing the public. The letters are absolutely critical for informed public participation in the next phase of the process – the issuance of revised BDCP drafts as early as April or May.

We call upon the governor and the BDCP agencies to respect American traditions by resuming the posting of all comment letters from organizations and public agencies on the BDCP website. It is time for them to stop hiding contrary information from Californians.

Robert Wright is senior counsel for Friends of the River, a statewide conservation group.

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