North corridor foes suing over environment studies

Opponents of a proposed freeway north of Modesto are suing state transportation leaders, saying environmental studies are inadequate.

The North County Corridor's environmental impact report should have better analyzed alternatives to a multilane expressway from Highway 99 in Salida to Highway 108 east of Oakdale, the lawsuit reads.

Protect our Agricultural Legacy is composed of people "whose interests will be severely injured" if the freeway isn't scratched, reads the document, filed last week in Stanislaus County Superior Court on behalf of the group plus "all others similarly situated who are too numerous to be named."

The group's Santa Rosa attorney, Rose Zoia, specializes in environmental law and previously represented Protect Our Water, a similarly loose-knit group that once challenged Diablo Grande in the coast range west of Patterson.

North County Corridor hearings have drawn hundreds of people, many of them angry at the prospect of losing homes, farms and peaceful country living. Some are expected to testify today before California transportation commissioners as the panel considers adopting a concept for a route that someday would replace Highway 108 with the 26-mile expressway.

State and local leaders from Modesto, Riverbank, Oakdale and Stanislaus County say the freeway would ease traffic and promote safety and economic development. Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, on Wednesday sent a letter to commissioners urging approval for "this significant project."

The lawsuit was filed to comply with rules on challenging environmental documents and not to block today's vote, Zoia said. The lawsuit asks that a judge force the state to do a better job on environmental studies.

The lawsuit contends that a draft environmental study must be circulated again because "significant new information" came out after the initial comment period regarding people who could be forced to move. Also, the document ignores potential harm to Hartweg's golden sunburst, an endangered native plant with yellow flowers in the sunflower family, the lawsuit says.

If the North County Corridor is approved today, officials would search for funding, identify a precise alignment and aim toward 2025 for construction of the stretch east of McHenry Avenue.

Today's meeting is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in the Sacramento Convention Center, 1300 J St., Room 315, Sacramento.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.