E. RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA -- U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Kaiser Corporation and others were put on notice today about glaring legal violations and threats to endangered species from construction of a railroad to haul thousands of tons of L.A. County trash daily to be dumped next to Joshua Tree National Park, at the proposed Eagle Mountain Landfill in California's Sonoran Desert region.
The landfill proposed for northeastern Riverside County by Ontario-based Kaiser has been bitterly opposed by desert residents, farmers, conservationists and Joshua Tree National Park. An abandoned 52-mile rail line leading from the Salton Sea to Eagle Mountain, along with a right-of-way are considered a key part of the dump proposal. The rail line and right of way pass through an established area of critical habitat for the threatened desert tortoise. They also cut across the Chuckwalla Bench Area of Critical Environmental Concern, which was designated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to protect a significant population of tortoises. Kaiser's construction work on the line has been consistently violating a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit, known as a biological opinion, and wildlife mitigation requirements. Kaiser has failed to provide safe rail line crossing points for tortoises, leaving them trapped or at risk of injury or death, and have consistently violated biological monitoring, mitigation and take avoidance requirements since at least 1998.
"Construction of the garbage railroad is trashing the desert and violating the law as Secretary Norton fails to enforce." says Daniel Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center in Idyllwild, who formerly worked with BLM.
"The railroad permit required that the tortoise and other critters be taken care of. Instead the operators have created death traps." says Elden Hughes, longtime Sierra Club desert champion.
Under the terms of the biological opinion, BLM is required to revoke the right-of-way across public lands if Kaiser does not comply. Today's notice asks the Secretary to do it, or face a lawsuit.
"The dump developers kill tortoises year after year with blessings from BLM." say Donna and Larry Charpied, organic farmers and activists with Citizens for the Chuckwalla Valley in Desert Center. "What is really frightening is tortoises are being harmed by the dump's railroad, and not one gum wrapper has been sent to Eagle Mountain yet. What will happen if 20,000 tons of garbage a day comes barrelling through critical tortoise habitat? It appears Norton's plan is to kill the species off and then nobody has to worry about them any more."
"There is a disturbing pattern of Interior Department agencies in the California Desert not living up to the requirements imposed on them by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered wildlife." says PEER Board Member Frank Buono, who was formerly an NPS Assistant Superintendent in the California Desert. "BLM at Eagle Mountain is failing to comply with what it must do, and we are putting them on notice to do it now, or face a federal judge."
A copy of the Notice of Intent to sue Secretary Norton is available by contacting Daniel Patterson.