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Irvine-Corona Tunnel Is A Highway to Many HellsRoger Butow Salem-News.com's 'Odd Man Out'
A Tale of Two Counties That Ignore Biological Consequences.
(IRVINE, Calif.) - The “dig, baby, dig” crazies have taken over Southern California, matching their oil and natural gas drilling whacko friends in fantasy trade-offs that nonsensically create more problems than they solve. After all, this is riotous Lotus or La-La Land, and no one typifies it more than those who think the next great concrete band-aid will be the one that instantly remedies our over-population hence traffic circulation problems. In fact, several tunnels are being considered as ways to alleviate surface gridlock burdens, lower commuter times and possibly provide mutually convenient venues for utility easements.
We’re accustomed to being accused of having our Hollywood-influenced heads in the clouds, or up our respective asses. In this case, now our transportation agencies, politicos and their developer cronies have us in some similar dark places: Tunnel visions, underground polar route passages as fix-alls for our increased urban sprawl that leaves us stuck like sweating sardines in our cars as they increase our beloved smog.
What aren’t being discussed are the real downsides, the potentials for interminable delays, lengthy lead-in times for the larger passages, plus the mounds of compliance and planning paperwork. Questionable viability of funding in the next decade is dicey, but that doesn’t stop them from pondering scenarios. As a sidebar, I laugh every time I read that the engineering firms questioned claim that it’s safer inside of a tunnel during a major earthquake, the one(s) we know are long overdue. And if they’re wrong, will they say: “Hey, sorry, my bad?”
If there’s one good thing to come out of the BP Gulf disaster, it’s the increased motivation for alternative, non-petrochemical energy sources. So the gas- guzzlers themselves may become extinct beasts, altering our vehicular corridors future design considerations and configurations. By the time this monolithic monstrosity is completed it could already be antiquated, an asphalt dinosaur. Even natural gas may give way to solar cells or some other technological vehicular breakthrough.
Electric light rail down the middle or over freeways might be a partial remedy that doesn’t involve such invasive commitment and questionable funding. Elevated rail through existing easements won’t permanently plow through (and under) habitat and migratory corridors that aren’t already occupied by the resident non-native, aggressively invasive species: Us.
Going underground has less visual blight but more fiscal bite than building double-deck freeways. It’s also much riskier, physically and fiscally. Complex, underground passages keep tons of engineers, consultants and of course our friendly building industry lobbyists in pocket change. With Washington throwing recovery money around like a drunken serviceman on leave, many of those lapping at the tunnel troughs don’t even care if they’re ever done. They’ll make their retirement nest egg off the extensive lead-up planning, endless feasibility studies and marketing/PR phases.
Local, state and federal jurisdictional agency employees will feed because by law they’ll need to be the regulatory or official biological oversight stakeholders. Which translates into decades of endless confabs on our taxpayer dime. Of course attorneys from all sides will lap at these endless litigious feeding trays. Everybody BUT the voiceless ecologies wins.
A great deal of anxiety has been experienced among eco-protectionist groups and fiscally prudent watchdog ones lately over a local tunnel project that like the vampire Lestat just never dies, no matter how many rudimentary aspects appear fatal flawed.
The most recent incarnation update leans towards a hiatus or suspension of planning because it doesn’t fit the revenue model. YET. Nothing is mentioned about the terrible environmental effects, just that the proponents can’t massage or crunch the numbers to fit their nutty plans at this time. 
If completed, at almost 12 miles (the distance and uses change depending on who reporters spoke with last) it would be the longest traffic tunnel in North America. Actually, like a home invasion thief, they keep trying different entry (I lost track after 5-6). Whenever a concerted effort by organized grass roots NGO screamed “NO!” they just moved the thing over a skosh into the next canyon. Having this much federal grant money to spend on studies means never having to say you’re sorry. 
Now morphed into something infinitely more massive than originally proposed, it’s an expanding universe dubbed “The Irvine-Corona Expressway.” It’s really a “highway to many hells,” fiscal and physical jeopardy being only two of them. If you’re unfamiliar with the history of this particular insane project, a poster child of pitifully myopic design they guestimate will take 10 years to build alone, linking Irvine (Orange County) with Corona (Riverside County), please revisit the earlier piece I wrote to facilitate comprehension of this one, ok?
“Irvine-Corona Tunnel Through Cleveland National Forest Is Possible: As In Possibly Stupid”
Through? Back now? Stunned and confused by what’s been sussed out so far? Outraged by the waste of federal highway funds for a road to financial ruin, a veritable engineering “pipe dream”? Maybe you’re shocked by the sheer audacity or presumption that taxpayers plus toll road users will love and embrace it? Or, like Paul McCarthy, maybe you’re just plain amazed? Pollyanna public planners they are, and a 10+ year build-out projection will s-t-r-e-t-c-h. Don’t blame ecological protectionist NGOs for holding the fort, rightfully so because our own government won’t protect us, nor the critters or the wilderness.
The untrustworthy powers-that-be seem to be begging off for now, and they seem poised to indefinitely delay this massive commuter and utility dig due to inextricable twin challenges: Is it Economic feasible and also technologically possible? For the sake of brevity, I’ll use EF/TP in the remainder of this article. Keep in mind that that Cleveland National Forest has been deemed as in the top 20 of threatened wilderness ecosystems in the world by UNECO. 
During the 9 years I’ve been aware of and opposed to it, I’ve seen little reflection, minimal discussion and only muttered token consideration of mitigations for the adverse ecological impacts, even though it transits Cleveland National Forest. It refuses to pass the way of the dodo bird because it’s got your usual gang of developer-friendly suspects, obstinate bureaucrats who freely blow federal funds. So far they’ve spent about $9 million of the $15.8 million that they procured for planning/analyses a while back. These people LOVE meetings filled to the brim with dog and pony shows. Naturally they hold most of them during the week, 9am-5 pm business hours preferred to lessen citizen involvement and therefore honest critical confrontation.
I became aware of this project back around 2001 during an Aliso Creek Watershed Study meeting hosted by the County of Orange and the US Army Corps of Engineers. Starting out as a small tunnel to run electrical, gas, and water, it had some traction initially because it would assure both primary and contingency routes for life-sustaining items in case of emergencies. Fear of being cut off completely, vivid chaos in a major emergency, it did gain inertia. The good old boys from Metro Water District of Orange County gave us a few snoozer Power Points portraying those medieval emergency conditions just in case citizens couldn’t imagine it for themselves. Fear is their favorite tool.
Then, light rail commuter proponents and housing developer buddies saw the vehicular elements as a way to get the Inland Empire (IE) gang around the money board quicker, into Orange County faster and more efficiently. Only filthy-with-lucre land rapists and their lapdog politicians could transform urban flight seeking cheap cookie cutter housing into something grandiosely called an “Empire.” Employees and vendors for the enormous build-out of The Great Park (former MCAS El Toro) and Rancho Mission Viejo to the south who can’t afford to live here but in the IE would supposedly make it a “pay-as-you-play” artery. They began expanding the goals and priorities over the years, and started peddling it as THE panacea for all of our South County freeway commuter transit woes.
Though proposed as directionally two-way, it mainly benefits one demographic: IE residents. Riverside and San Bernardino real estate agents could sell those upstream folks a quicker round trip to work on weekdays and a polar route to the beach on summer weekends when they get temperatures in the 100s out in the boonies. How they’re going to afford the estimated $10+ each way is beyond me. For many making lower wages about ¼ of each day’s pay will go to gas and toll fees.
“The Inland Empire, overwhelmed by uncontrolled rapid growth and plagued by automobile-centric development, is by far the nation's worst example of suburban sprawl, a team of researchers concluded in 2002 followed by a news report by the Los Angeles Times. The three-year study was conducted by researchers from Rutgers and Cornell universities and released by Smart Growth America in Washington.” 
The area they wish to decimate may appear low-value weed and scrub to the uninformed, but it is a National Forest dominated by So Cal chaparral and riparian ecosystems, it has federally protected sensitive eco-zones with innumerable threatened and/or endangered species, unique to these climes. I’m going to focus on the environmental impacts this time, hopefully browsing hyperlinks I’ll place at the end and what’s available online will be eye-opening lessons for researchers and newbies. If yo’re jealous and in a hilly or mountainous zone, no need to fret, there’s a group in YOUR area probably hatching a similar plot for your entertainment.
There’s always a bit of irony when a posse of clowns like this begin introducing EF/TP into a report or analysis. That’s because if these public agencies WANT to do a huge, complex installation and they can’t mitigate it in their supporting documents, can’t avoid irrevocable damage, then they claim that it’s NOT EF/TP to do so. Thus EF/TP is a dual-edged sword so when it suits them, and these are definitely “suits,” they use these concepts as an excuse to NOT protect the impacted zones.
They’ll claim that the project is jeopardized, jobs and the local economy are in danger, it’s absolutely necessary to do this NOW and that mitigating would create cost over-runs, etc. Or they hedge around a bit, find (read buy off) consultants that declare the mitigations suggested by protectionists aren’t technologically possible. Translation: They have no shame about working both sides of compliance and justifying degradation.
Many times, public agencies propose that it’s 100% exempt entirely, use their exaggerating attorneys (on your dime and mine) to hyperbolically prove that there’s some kind of health and safety emergency involved. This can result in a very fast track, maybe circumvent and often shrink the permitting process by light years.
Both the federal assessment mechanism (National Environmental Policy Act) and ours, the California Environmental Quality Act, allow for such exemptions under specific terms and/or conditions, but the system is abused repeatedly. Turns out the potential culprits are the designated local lead agencies endowed with the powers to approve environmental impact reports and statements!
This tunnel will require very wide patches of elevated, trapezoidal-shaped roadways, not to mention an extensive set of smaller on and off-ramps at both ends. It’s not exaggerating to estimate a complex of asphalt and concrete, swaths hundreds of feet wide that will bifurcate some incredible existing intact habitat, slicing migratory land corridors to smithereens and creating islands or pockets that only increase ecological entropy. Pinnacle predators like mountain lions need large foraging areas. Humans unfortunately killed the last bears a century ago. Here, in the Tragic Kingdom, ersatz environs rule, simply take your family to a Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm.
Readers need to understand “habitat fragmentation,” and comprehend that there are few long-term studies that sustain optimism for these wide roadways with such underground passages….unless of course the study is paid for by the tunnel’s developers. Nonetheless, biological integrity IS important, and like Humpty-Dumpty, once a rift of this magnitude is established no one will be putting these habitats back together again. EVER.
Canada and Europe have had some success with fully landscaped bridges that feature thick hedges to cut out light and noise as dedicated migration corridors, but going up and over is not possible for this scenario. Here in So Cal, our medium-sized predators like raccoons, possums, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, etc. would basically be experimented upon. Mule deer are pretty athletic AND ornery, not sure what they’d do.
In case you’ve heard that those subterranean wildlife tunnels under such projects are wonderfully successful warm and fuzzy solutions everywhere else? Well, Dorothy, they’re not. Predators hang around both terminuses, and their possible prey learn quickly via scent alone that death or danger is imminent.
What HAS been effective somewhat for these passages is a dual-tunnel underpass system. One is for the predators, one for the prey. Which adds to the costs, which means that’s the first place they’ll cut or limit funds. Guaranteed.
The longer the sub-surface wildlife tunnels (and these will easily be the length of football fields) the less likely that they’ll be used. So now they will have cut off or chopped up species habitats, not to mention accomplished what biologists understand is counter-intuitive for healthy plants and animals (biota).
As we know, wildlife conservation funding is already “iffy,” so don’t bank on multiple passages at spaced stations for post-construction analysis studies either. These mandated follow-up studies would come out of the mitigation funds, the first to get cut or lessened per usual.
Unobstructed “landscape permeability,” the ability of animals to move freely across and through the patchwork of ecological communities, is critical for “linkage.” Long-term sustainability and genetic mixing are important, especially so for Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA) that contain the threatened and endangered inhabitants. Compromising the genetic viability through this type of isolationism (fragmentation) leads to less healthy populations and eventual extinctions.
Factored into the “Big Tunnel” wildlife underpass equation should be lighting and noise inhibitions for wildlife, but I haven’t seen them addressed either. Undoubtedly, the roadway and adjacent feeding arteries will of necessity be heavily lit, the lighting from the shoulders for emergency stops washing over into the embankments. This will further discourage nocturnal foraging by the critters that rely upon the stealth of darkness as their food-gathering friend.
Operating 24/7/365, now add the typical high decibels of traffic, including (a) frustrated horn-blowers and (b) emergency vehicles wailing away. Here in So Cal, we unfortunately produce these two species by the thousands. You know in your heart that they will NOT build a solid wall, 50-60 feet high on both sides to lower the sound and dampen the lighting. Costs would be prohibitive and in a seismic event of any great magnitude it would limit extraction of those human commuters trapped in the collapsed impact zone, inside the tunnel or outside.
Pavement=Pollution, and there will be the usual gamut of carcinogenic contaminants draining off of the tunnel’s supporting, monolithic road system. How the riparian and aquatic species in the drainage areas will survive this onslaught also gets no consideration. They and their babies will be immersing and/or drinking this toxic soup.
Why? Because water quality laws, both state and federal, allow polluted discharges that exceed legal standards during peak rainy events, most give a 72 hour time period as a subsidence buffer regarding testing and enforcement. Surfers know this drill, they are advised by physicians not to go into the ocean near evacuation points near highways, or like creek or river mouths for a similar 72 hour period.
All bets are off when the pollutants from the intense vehicular traffic are sloughed, look it up in the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) prescriptions. These contaminants will finally migrate into Upper Newport Bay, already on the federal 303 (d) Impaired Waterbody List. And what do you know, already polluted by the paved over City of Irvine and former MCAS El Toro. Now isn’t THAT special?
The transportation agencies won’t have enough land left to install or integrate the extra-large filtration ponds or gargantuan settling basins adjacent to this project that would have the capacity to percolate (naturally filter) the volumes of polluted rainwater involved.
Water quality sampling for carcinogens reveals that these eventually get over-whelmed with gross sediment contamination anyway, and as noted non-fatal bacterial counts are sky high for days after it rains.
Emerging or best available technologies always receive short shrift (adequate $$$) when it comes to proactive, pre-emptive professional, effective and aggressive maintenance scheduling.
What sustains, what re-animates this golem every time you think it’s dead? The Godfather-like support from our 42nd Congressional District Rep. Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar), a Tea Bag man with his own truckload of real estate shenanigans that have kept him on the precipice of official ethics violation sanctions for the past decade. And a man, by the way, who apparently never met a real estate development he or his shadowy partners didn’t like. His district is “conveniently” situated for one-stop developer cartel shopping at the nexus of the Riverside, LA and Orange Counties, so this man is up to his eyeballs in real estate friendly canards around Diamond Bar, reaping millions in personal profit and inordinate regional influence.
Military Record: In June 2010 allegations were made that Miller inflated his military service, stating that he had served from 1967-1968 and implying he served in Vietnam when he only spent 7 weeks in boot camp and then was discharged. The Harper’s Magazine article recounting these allegations also included this quote from Miller spokeswoman Jessica L. Baker: ‘Congressman Miller volunteered to the U.S. Army and was Honorably Discharged due to medical reasons within a matter of months.’ ” 
His adjacent representative, best IE bro’ Ken Calvert (R-44th Congressional District) is a Corona native, and gee whiz, guess what? He’s been embroiled in controversy over real estate foibles and hi-jinx for a long time too! He owns “lots of lots” in Riverside County, so there will be fiscal gain if an alternative corridor gets his potential buyers faster to the South OC coastline. Calvert, like Miller, has a history of mixing personal business matters and political influence peddling with federal transportation bills.
“Calvert was named one of the 15 most corrupt members of Congress by the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. They accuse him of gaining personally from earmarks, making allegedly illegal land deals, and having questionable ties to a lobbying firm that is under investigation by the FBI. In 1993 he was caught by the Corona Police Department receiving oral sex from a prostitute and attempted to flee the scene. The Riverside-based Press-Enterprise went to court to force the Corona police to release the police report.” 
This is not a “Tunnel of Love” through a National Forest, a reserve that should be inviolate in perpetuity and enjoy our most stringent public protection. It’s in disguise as a major transportation solution when in reality it’s politically-driven redux of “Chinatown”. And as Jack Nicholson found out in that movie, these people are rich, persistent and play hardball.
The American public and the land entrusted to our heritage are just stage props for these land barons who play real life “Monopoly”. Like the game, these people want to offer the disenfranchised Baltic and Oriental IE property owners a “Chance Card”, a “Get-Out-of-the-IE-Jail Card” for easier future Park Place and Boardwalk (South OC) visitations----oh, and funny thing, to make lots of “windfall moolah” for themselves and their constituents traveling along the way.
As the Calvert and Miller cabals exclaim from their lofty twin penthouses, it's a "win-win." For those sitting on the top of the money pile, it always is----for them.
FYI: If a project near you has some interesting enviro-aspect(s) that you think is/are worthy of Salem-News.com coverage and our readers attention, feel free to contact me with a very brief synopsis. Water-related “Blue Interventions” are my specialty!
Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger von Bütow and his OMO columns are written exclusively for Salem-News-com. Born and raised in the LA Harbor area, son of a German immigrant father, he's been in Orange County for 45 years and is a 38-year resident of Laguna Beach, Ca. In 1998, he began his professional career in environmental review processes (CEQA, NEPA, MND, MND and EIR/EIS). He's a rare mix of cross-trained builder, writer and consultant as he brings his extensive construction experiences dating back to 1972 into his eco-endeavors. He has tremendous field and technical expertise in successful watershed restorations, plus wastewater, urban runoff, water quality monitoring/improvements and hydrologic mechanisms. He's built everything from commercial spas to award-winning private residences, and provided peer review and consultant analyses for single homes, subdivisions and upscale resorts.
His resumé is extensive, try an online GOOGLE search of his personal journey and historical accomplishments. His consultation fees are reasonable and if you've got a major project that alarms you, that needs creative intervention, then he's your man. His credentials and "CV" can be provided upon request.
Contact him at his office: (949) 715.1912 or drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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