Local water quality regulators Wednesday night halted a $200-million tollway project in Orange County when they denied a discharge permit for the controversial proposal.
On a 3 to 2 vote, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board declined to issue a permit to the Transportation Corridor Agencies in Irvine, the operator of 51 miles of toll roads in Orange County.
The TCA sought the permit for the planned Tesoro Extension that would lengthen the Foothill tollway 5.5 miles from Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita to Cow Camp Road east of San Juan Capistrano.
Board members who voted to deny the permit said the Tesoro Extension was not the project that should have been brought to them for a permit.
They contended that the proposal was actually part of a broader TCA plan to lengthen the Foothill toll road 16 miles to the 5 Freeway around San Clemente.
TCA officials said the Tesoro Extension was a stand-alone project and that its water quality management plan submitted to the board was designed specifically for it.
Lisa Telles, a TCA spokeswoman, said the agency will consider its options, including whether to appeal the water board's decision.
The Tesoro project has become controversial in the aftermath of federal and state decisions several years ago that halted the planned Foothill extension through popular San Onofre State Beach Park in northern San Diego County.
Environmentalists and other tollway opponents fear that the Tesoro project is really the first step in a plan by the TCA to resurrect the Foothill project -- something tollway officials deny.