The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to oppose a plan to withhold federal funds from projects that encourage coastal development as a way to cut federal repair bills due to storm damage.
Federal funds for programs such as flood insurance, public works projects, sewage treatment plants and highway construction in coastal areas could be withheld if the plan is enacted, Supervisor Harriett Wieder told fellow board members Tuesday. Wieder said it is ironic that some of the federal funds that might be withheld help to finance flood control channels that prevent or limit storm damage.
The policy, adopted by Congress in 1982, now affects only East Coast and Gulf Coast areas endangered by hurricanes. The U.S. Department of the Interior is studying an extension of the policy to the West Coast.
It was the second time in two weeks that the supervisors voted to oppose an Interior Department action. Last week they took a stand against a compromise proposal to open about 54 square miles of ocean off Orange County to oil exploration.
Environmentalists favor including the West Coast in the federal policy because they believe it would help protect environmentally sensitive areas from commercial development. But the state and county have argued that the California Coastal Act of 1976 and the state Coastal Commission are sufficient barriers to excessive development.
Supervisor Wieder’s District
Wieder, whose district includes part of the county’s northern coast, said any extension of the policy would affect Orange County. Wieder said: “The restriction of federal funds from public works and flood insurance would drastically curtail efforts by the county to provide needed flood protection, wetlands restoration and recreational activities along the coast.”
The board voted 5 to 0 to write Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel of its opposition to the proposed withholding of funds.
County officials said they have no estimate of the amount of federal funds that might be in jeopardy.
Frank McGilvray, who oversees coastal development policy for the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service, was unavailable Tuesday, but other members of Hodel’s staff said that the agency is merely studying the possibility of extending the policy to the West Coast and has no immediate plan to do so.
The states of California, Washington and Oregon have all officially opposed the proposed inclusion of the West Coast, while Alaska favors such a move, according to state and federal officials.
Hodel, who is from Oregon, is not likely to approve the proposed extension because of West Coast opposition, according to a Hodel aide who requested anonymity.
Would Require New Law
Legislation would have to be introduced in Congress in order to include the West Coast, state and federal officials said.
The Interior Department’s Coastal Barrier Study Group is reviewing the issue and has identified 5,000 acres along the Orange County coast that might be included in the federal anti-development policy.
Anaheim Bay near Seal Beach, the Bolsa Chica marsh near Huntington Beach and the mouth of the Santa Ana River between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach are the areas that would be affected, county officials said.
Federal funds have been used and will be sought in the future for channel dredging and flood control projects at the three locations, which are in Wieder’s district.
The private development of a channel entrance to the residential area planned for Bolsa Chica could be affected, although it’s not clear how the federal policy would apply to projects already approved by various government agencies, county, state and federal officials said.
The Coastal Commission and the county are still negotiating final details of the Bolsa Chica plan.