In February, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) announced they would sue Inyo County over the Inyo County Board of Supervisors’ January decision to approve seven trails in the Adventure Trails System.
Earlier this month, Inyo County, CBD, and PEER reached a settlement agreement that appears to have pleased all parties.
The Adventure Trails System is intended to link Off Highway Vehicle (OHV, also known as Off Road Vehicle, or ORV) use areas with service and lodging facilities, with the hope that it will promote OHV tourism and bring a much-needed economic boost to struggling towns in the Owens Valley.
The Trails System has been controversial since its proposal in 2012. Many Inyo County residents expressed concern at the Board’s hearing on the Trails System that the project would create noise, air quality, and safety issues, as well as negatively impact public lands.
The Board of Supervisors ultimately only approved seven out of 36 proposed trails in the Adventure Trails System as a pilot project set to expire in 2017. Approved trails include five in Bishop, with two each emanating from Brown’s Town and the Pleasant Valley Campground and one from Britt’s Diesel, one in Independence, and one in Lone Pine, beginning at the Boulder Creek RV Park.
CBD and PEER’s lawsuit was inspired by a concern that the Board’s approval of the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) opened the door for future trails without further environmental review.
According to the CBD press release, the settlement agreement reached between Inyo County, CBD, and PEER requires that any potential expansion of the program to the remaining proposed roads would have to first undergo environmental review with public notice and comment.
“I think they were concerned that we would add more routes,” said Inyo County Board of Supervisors Chair Matt Kingsley in an interview with The Sheet. “But we said after the [Adventure Trails] hearing that we would not [without public input].”
CBD and PEER’s other concerns: that expanding ORV access into sensitive habitat could damage plants, animals and cultural resources, and that the Adventure Trails EIR “was very weak in assessing the impacts from ORVs on these things,” said CBD Senior Scientist/Public Lands Desert Director Ileene Anderson. “We also have grave concerns about the impacts to air quality from more PM10 [particulate matter] being kicked up from increasing ORV activity.”
Anderson said the CBD and PEER also felt the Adventure Trails System proposal “seems to be a huge potential for tragic accidents, when you combine ORVs with pedestrians and normal traffic,” something the settlement doesn’t directly address.
Regarding concerns about dust and environmental impact, Kingsley noted that of the 44.7 miles of approved trails, 39 miles are on already paved roads. Only the remaining 5.7 are unpaved, and could potentially generate dust and negative impacts to the environment.
Meanwhile Inyo County Senior Transportation Planner Courtney Smith added that the County is still waiting on approval from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for four of the seven trails.
“It’s possible that if the County does not obtain that approval, it would only open three routes,” Smith said. The three remaining routes would include one in Bishop, Lone Pine, and Independence. The three routes are 18.8 miles total; 16.4 paved and 2.4 unpaved.
What the County, CBD and PEER agreed upon in their settlement was that the approved Adventure Trails would act as a pilot program to test the effect of the Adventure Trails System, and that the project may be reauthorized based on the outcome of the pilot.
Senior Transportation Planner Smith said the combine-use routes have a tentative opening date in June or July.