U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
 
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Issue Update: Eagle Mountain Land Exchange and Landfill

SUMMARY:

To provide the background and status of federal litigation concerning a land exchange completed October 13, 1999. In the exchange, BLM conveyed scattered public lands in and around an existing open pit mine on private lands to Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc (Kaiser). In return, BLM received private lands which are habitat for threatened and endangered species.

ISSUES:

In September 1989, Kaiser's Mine Reclamation Corp. (MRC) proposed developing a landfill at Kaiser's Eagle Mountain open pit mine in Riverside County, north of Desert Center. At full operation an estimated 20,000 tons of sorted refuse per day would be transported from Los Angeles and Riverside counties, primarily by rail.

In a separate, but related action, BLM and Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc. proposed to (1) exchange 3,481 acres of scattered tracts of public land in and around the mine and acquire 2,846 acres containing habitat for threatened and endangered species within the Chuckwalla Bench and Dos Palmas areas, then owned by Kaiser; and (2) convert old legislative rights-of-way to new Federal Land Policy and Management Act rights-of-way in this area. A joint environmental impact statement and environmental impact report (EIS/EIR) was prepared by BLM (on the exchange and rights-of-way) and by Riverside County (on the landfill). In November 1992, the county certified the EIR and approved the local permits necessary for the landfill. In October 1993, BLM issued a decision approving the exchange and the right-of-way. Opponents appealed that decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA).

In July 1994, the California Superior Court set aside Riverside County's certification, and directed the county to prepare a new EIR. BLM joined Riverside County to prepare a new EIS/EIR, and in July of 1996, a new draft EIS/EIR was released, followed by four public hearings. In January 1997, the final EIS/EIR was released, with BLM's preferred alternative to approve the land exchange and rights-of-way, and on September 27, 1997, BLM issued a record of decision approving the land exchange.

In May of 1998, a state court ruled that certain portions of the EIR did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, but found no inadequacies in the land exchange portion of the EIR/EIS. On appeal, a state appellate court reversed the lower court’s ruling on the inadequacy of the EIR. Landfill opponents petitioned the state Supreme Court to review the appellant court decision, but in July of 1999, the Court refused to hear the challenge, ending litigation in state court. In December 1998 and January 1999, BLM dismissed public protests filed on the exchange and the rights-of-way. The final rights-of-way to Kaiser/MRC were issued, but the National Parks and Conservation Association and the Charpieds appealed the exchange to IBLA. In September 1999, IBLA affirmed BLM’s decision approving the land exchange and issuance of rights-of-way. On October 13, 1999, BLM issued patents (title) to Kaiser completing the land exchange. On December 13, 1999 Kaiser/MRC received final approvals and its operating permits from state officials to begin construction of the landfill.

Two federal lawsuits were filed by the landfill opponents (Donna and Larry Charpied and Desert Protection Society filed a lawsuit December 20, 1999 in federal District Court in Riverside against BLM and the National Park Service; the National Parks Conservation Association filed suit on January 27, 2000, against BLM, DOI, Kaiser Eagle Mountain Inc. and MRC.

In August 2000, the Los Angeles Sanitation District initiated purchase of the landfill project in August 2000 from Kaiser/MRC for $41 million, with the public announcement that proceeds of the sale would benefit Kaiser's 7,000 retired Fontana Kaiser Steel Corp. mill workers. The purchase is contingent on settlement of the federal litigation.

In September, 2001, the BLM issued Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc. a notice to proceed on repairs of major storm related damage to their railroad facility. This repair project, subject to conditions provided in the USFWS biological opinion, was completed in May 2002. These repairs, involving over 21 miles of railway, consisted of replacement of two trestles with culverts, rebuilding sections of track, and repairs to drainage culverts.

On September 26, 2002, the Center for Biological Diversity et al issued a 60-day notice of intent to sue for infractions of the Endangered Species Act, raising concerns about ongoing activities and the threatened desert tortoise. The BLM responded to this notice by letter, dated Nov. 25, 2002, addressing those concerns. No suit was filed. Kaiser took further action in 2003 addressing the concerns.

On September 20, 2005, United States District Judge Robert J. Timlin ruled on plaintiffs' (Donna Charpied et al) and defendants' (United States Department of Interior et al) motions for summary judgement. The ruling partially granted and partially denied plaintiffs and defendants requests for summary judgement. The ruling "set aside" the land exchange and right-of-way grants and enjoined defendants from "..engaging in any action that would change the character and use of the exchanged properties pending the BLM's preparation of an ROD consistent with the Court's rulings in this order and an EIS which addresses the deficiencies in the subject final EIS as noted by the Court.." The Department of Justice appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

STATUS:

A hearing was held 12/6/07 in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the government's request to review a lower court summary judgment ruling 9/20/05 finding problems with the appraisal involved in this exchange. A ruling is not expected for several months.

12/07


BLM California News.bytes, issue 310


 
Last updated: 12-12-2007