Nuevo suing county over project denial – Melville

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Nuevo suing county over project denial By John A. Read — Staff Writer 11/3/02 Nuevo Energy Company has a launched a three-pronged legal attack on Santa Barbara County, claiming it violated state environmental law in using wrong baseline data in an environmental impact report, wasn’t the correct lead agency to prepare the report and wrongly applied mitigation measures in denying the Tranquillon Ridge project. “It’s one of those emperor’s new clothes,” said Nuevo contract attorney Kate Neiswender. “We’re one of those who pointed out they don’t have jurisdiction, so they’re really mad at us.” “The Board (of Supervisors) acted properly,” responded senior deputy county counsel Bill Dillon. “This is a type of project where the board had sole discretion to approve or deny the project. They chose to deny.” Supervisors Oct. 22 finalized a 3-2 denial of Nuevo’s application to drill for oil under state tidelands from its federally-based offshore oil Platform Irene. The platform, off the Vandenberg Air Force Base coast four miles, pumps oil to the Lompoc Oil and Gas Plant on Harris Grade Road. The board and earlier Planning Commission denials were based largely on concerns that the county might find it tough to enforce mitigation measures on the oil company following an appeal court decision suggesting that pipeline safety is under federal jurisdiction. Nuevo’s Oct. 25 filing in Santa Maria Superior Court gives the county 30 days to respond to Nuevo’s request for a writ of mandate — a court order that would compel the county to rewrite the EIR with different data and recirculate it for public comment. But a case management conference between the defendants, plaintiff and assigned judge Rodney S. Melville isn’t scheduled until Feb. 24, 2003. Neiswender, who specializes in California Environmental Quality Act matters, usually for environmental groups, said CEQA requires completion of an EIR “within one year of the application being complete. By failing to certify it, they failed in their duty to the public.” She said the same EIR was used for the upgrade project for the Lompoc Oil and Gas Plant and for a Tosco request for bidirectional flow in the Sisquoc pipeline. In those cases the EIR was certified, but not for Tranquillon Ridge. But Dillon said the EIR covered all three projects as a practical consideration since the items are related. “There is a separate baseline for each project,” he said. Dillon said Nuevo was also arguing in a circuitous fashion. “On the one hand they say we have a duty to certify it, but on the other hand we don’t have jurisdiction,” he said. CEQA issues are procedural issues, Dillon said. “You don’t have to complete CEQA applications where the project is denied.” Nuevo has argued repeatedly that the alleged impacts of its proposed project are greatly exaggerated since the county compared new production figures that would occur with the Tranquillon Ridge project with current production figures that are well below the original permit levels still in existence. The county followed full entitlements on other oil projects but on this one it used current production figures, Neiswender said. The county’s insistence on being the lead agency in Nuevo’s application “overruled” the State Lands Commission and other agencies, resulting in the incorrect baseline, Nuevo argues, claiming the failure to name the correct lead agency (State Lands, in Nuevo’s estimation) was another violation of CEQA. At the time the lead agency (the county) was chosen through a memorandum of understanding between affected governmental agencies, Nuevo filed a formal request for State Lands to be the lead agency. The request was denied, the suit says. Nuevo said the county also violated CEQA by an “incorrect application of the mandate to mitigate to the maximum extent feasible.” If the county was operating “in excess of its jurisdictional authority,” Nuevo’s bringing that to their attention “is not valid grounds for retaliating against petitioners by denying the project,” the suit says. Neiswender said if the oil company wins its case, the million-dollar EIR would have to be revised with the correct baseline data and be recirculated for public comment. Staff writer John A. Read can be reached at 736-2313, Ext. 126, or by e-mail at :nav Source:

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