Environmentalists & California AG Sue To Block Eastgate Plan

Within less than a month, two lawsuits have been filed against the Federal Aviation Administration, the San Bernardino International Airport and Hillwood Enterprises targeting the Eastgate air logistics facility, which local officials have touted as a major breakthrough for the long-awaited civilian reconversion of Norton Air Force Base.
The first of those suits was filed on January 29, 2019 with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in the form of a petition for review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s finding that there were no significant environmental impacts from the project. That action was brought by the Center for Community Action & Environmental Justice, the Sierra Club, Teamsters Local 1932 and two private citizens, Shana Sater and Martha Romero.
Today, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra came to San Bernardino to announce that his office had filed a civil suit against the same three entities – the Federal Aviation Administration, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority and Hillwood Enterprises – contesting the  approval of the air cargo logistics center.
On December 23, 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a finding that the construction of the massive-scale project on the northeast portion of what was formerly Norton Air Force Base will have no significant impact on the environment that can not in some fashion be mitigated. Seven days later, on December 30, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority approved a 35-year ground lease with master developer Hillwood Enterprises for roughly 100 acres of land at the aerodrome to move that project toward reality.
According to the environmental impact report on the project, “San Bernardino International Airport Authority proposes to develop the Eastgate Air Cargo Facility to accommodate the demand for air cargo logistics operations” and the project will involve “construction of taxilanes and an aircraft parking apron to accommodate up to 14 aircraft, a 658,500-square-foot distribution center with connecting aircraft ramps, two 25,000-square-foot maintenance buildings, and automobile parking with approximately 2,000 parking stalls.” The upshot of the environmental impact report, which was paid for by Hillwood, was that the environmental review of the project was comprehensive, and measures built into the conditions of approval for the project will ensure mitigation of air and noise pollution and increased truck traffic.
The San Bernardino International Airport Authority was formed as a joint powers authority to oversee the civilian use conversion of Norton Air Force Base after it was shuttered in 1994, involving the County of San Bernardino and the cities of San Bernardino, Colton, Highland and Loma Linda. For more than two decades, despite the diversion of over $350 million in local tax money and federal and state infusions of funds that included $142 million ventured toward the creation of a modern passenger terminal and concourse, and another $210 million invested in airport facilities, the airport languished, with only marginal income generated from the leasing of hangar space. Much of the facility for more than two decades sat fallow and virtually unused, as the airport has yet to host any commercial airlines, although corporate jets and other private pilots did land at the Million Air corporate aviation facility from 2010 until 2012.
Currently, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority’s board consists of San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia, San Bernardino Councilman Theodore Sanchez, Loma Linda Councilman Ovidiu Popescu, Highland Councilwoman Penny Lilburn, Colton Mayor Frank Navarro and Third District San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe. Seeking to overcome their predecessors’ legacy of tolerating a circumstance in which the authority signed off on the expenditure of hundreds of millions of tax dollars redirected from the participating jurisdictional entities to run the airport and make improvements there while very little was accomplished in terms of making the air facility and its accompanying structures and facilities viable operations, the board embraced Hillwood’s Eastgate plan.
The project’s opponents contend the environmental review was less than exhaustive and that the impacts from the undertaking will have a deleterious effect on the environment and quality of life of those in close proximity to the project. Opponents of the project said the impact on the air quality over San Bernardino, Highland, Loma Linda, Redlands, Grand Terrace, Colton and as far away as Yucaipa and Mentone would prove onerous, and efforts to mitigate or offset that impact had not been adequate. Environmentalists said the project would wreak untold havoc on critical habitat for the spotted owl, a near-threatened species.
Those project opponents networked with environmentalists and groups who consider the proliferation of logistics operations, which are infamous for offering employment providing low and modest wages, as being a poor longterm investment for the region.
That led to the suit/petition from the Center for Community Action & Environmental Justice, the Sierra Club, Teamsters Local 1932, Sater and Romero.
The petition states, “Petitioners ask this court to set aside FAA’s orders issued on December 20, 2019 and December 23, 2019 as arbitrary and capricious because they are contrary to federal law and unsupported by a convincing statement of reasons in the record.  Petitioners further request this court vacate the December 30, 2019 ground lease agreement by and between SBIAA and Hillwood because it is predicated on those unlawful orders.  Finally, petitioners ask this court to require FAA to prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposed project in accordance with      applicable federal law.”
“The FAA has chosen to ignore the dirty impacts this new airport terminal will create for us, but by their own assessment it will pump one ton of toxic air pollution into San Bernardino every day,” said Anthony Victoria, communications director at the Center for Community Action & Environmental Justice. “Developers and corporations should be required to meet stringent standards if they’re trying to build in a community suffering from the nation’s worst air quality, not given free rein to deplete our quality of life in San Bernardino.”
“This fight is emblematic of large retailers like Amazon not being held accountable for good jobs and clean air in the communities they’re operating in. People have had enough with the toxic truck pollution and exploitative jobs that rob them of a future,” said Adrian Martinez, staff attorney on Earthjustice’s Right to Zero campaign. “The Inland Empire is the heart of a national struggle for healthy air and jobs with dignity.”
In announcing the attorney general’s office’s civil suit, Becerra said, “This large airport expansion project will have a significant impact on the local community and families who call this area home. These families are already disproportionately burdened by pollution.”
The Sentinel’s efforts to obtain a reaction to the suit by airport officials, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority or any of the county or municipal officials or entities associated with it by press time today were not successful.

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