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Army engineers fault toll agency

Times Staff Writer

In a strong rebuke by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency proposing a toll road through San Onofre State Beach has been accused of making false and misleading statements in an appeal to federal officials.

Col. Thomas H. Magness, the corps’ district director in Los Angeles, charged in a letter last week that the appeal by Irvine-based Transportation Corridor Agencies challenging the project’s denial by the state Coastal Commission contains false statements and mischaracterizes the Army’s role in the planning process.

“I am compelled to highlight a few areas of the public record where I have found inaccurate statements as well as inferences that misrepresent the Corps’ preliminary determinations,” Magness wrote to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which will rule on the appeal.

TCA officials angrily denied the allegations and may demand a retraction.

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The six-page letter, experts suggest, could weaken the transit agency’s position by, among other things, calling into question the selection of the so-called Green Alignment that would cut through the state beach.

Contrary to the TCA’s appeal, Magness wrote, the corps has “at no time” ruled out other, less controversial routes.

“It’s significant for the corps to weigh in that way,” said Deborah A. Sivas, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School. Not usually known to be proactive, she said, the corps -- judging from the tone of its letter -- is sensitive to the TCA’s use of its name.

Brian Segee, a staff attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife, which opposes the toll road, agreed. “For the corps to go on record like this, and directly contradict the TCA and say outright that they believe there are practical alternatives, absolutely undermines the TCA’s appeal,” he said.

TCA directors defended their agency’s appeal and planning process, saying they were stunned by the corps’ letter and its tone.

The communication prompted an angry telephone call to Magness from Thomas Margro, the toll road agency’s chief executive. The corps’ letter, Margro said in an interview, makes it sound as if the TCA approved the route alignment “in the dead of night,” when, in fact, the action was known by all participants, including the corps.

TCA Director Jerry Amante said that after reading both the TCA’s appeal and Magness’ letter, he had concluded “there’s nothing misleading in the appeal” and predicted the federal government would react favorably to it.

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david.reyes@latimes.com


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