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Friends of the River stands up for the First Amendment
by Dan Bacher
Sunday Apr 13th, 2014 5:08 PM
Bob Wright, Senior Counsel for Friends of the River, said, “The BDCP Water Tunnels project is in reality a dagger aimed at the hearts of the Sacramento River and the San Francisco Bay-Delta as well as a pickpocket after the wallets of California taxpayers and ratepayers. That is why the BDCP agencies are afraid to post the comments. They are afraid of the truth.”

Photo of Bob Wright of Friends of the River at a rally at the State Capitol against the tunnels in December 2013. Photo by Dan Bacher.
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Friends of the River stands up for the First Amendment

Group posts BDCP comments suppressed by the government

by Dan Bacher

The officials behind the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels, just like the political hacks and corporate operatives who oversaw the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create so-called "marine protected areas" in California coastal waters, have gone out of their way to suppress the First Amendment.

The MLPA Initiative officials went so far as to arrest independent journalist David Gurney for exercising his First Amendment right to videotape a a public workshop regarding marine protected areas on the North Coast in April 2010. (https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/2010/04/california-journalist-arrested-for-attempting-to-video-public-meeting-on-marine-life-protection/)

While BDCP officials haven't gone as far yet as arresting a journalist for exercising his/her First Amendment rights, they have openly suppressed Freedom of Speech by refusing to post any correspondence other than project material touting Governor Jerry Brown's plan to build the twin tunnels.

Fortunately, Friends of the River is standing up for the First Amendment. The group, in response to the agencies' refusal to post public comments, on April 10 announced that it is posting all comments made on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) Water Tunnels project on its website, http://www.friendsoftheriver.org, under the heading Bay Delta Conservation Plan Public Comment Library.

According to the announcement from Friends of the River, "It is imperative that public interest organizations, public agencies, and California citizens, taxpayers and ratepayers have access to comments made as they come in to assist them in spotting issues and formulating their own comments on the 40,000 pages of advocacy--the Plan and draft EIR/EIS-- touting the BDCP Water Tunnels."

The government agencies declare they will not make the comments “available to the public” until “the release of the Final EIR/EIS.” That concealment of the comments until after the public review period has ended will be of no help to the public in formulating comments during the review period.

Friends of the River (FOR) has been demanding copies of the comments from the government agencies under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In the tradition of the First Amendment and unlike the state and federal agencies, FOR is posting the comments it has obtained regardless of whether the particular comment agrees or disagrees with FOR’s support for saving the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay-Delta and opposition to the Water Tunnels.

"FOR is now doing what the government of a free country should be-- but is not-- doing. That is, FOR is insuring that all sides of this important and controversial issue can be heard during this critical public review period," FOR stated.

The proposed BDCP Water Tunnels project that is the subject of the BDCP draft Plan and draft EIR/EIS is one of the most controversial and expensive public works projects in the history of the State of California - and could cost up to $67 billion. Back in June of 1982, voters defeated the earlier incarnation of the tunnel project, the peripheral canal, in a statewide referendum by a 2 to 1 vote.

The Water Tunnels raise "profound environmental issues" under several laws including the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, and California Environmental Quality Act, according to FOR.

The construction of the tunnels would hasten the extinction of Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, as well imperiling the salmon and steelhead populations of the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

With respect to economic issues, the only true statewide cost-benefit study of the project concluded that the costs would exceed the benefits by 2.5 to 1, so that the project does not make economic or financial sense.

Bob Wright, Senior Counsel for Friends of the River, said, “The BDCP Water Tunnels project is in reality a dagger aimed at the hearts of the Sacramento River and the San Francisco Bay-Delta as well as a pickpocket after the wallets of California taxpayers and ratepayers. That is why the BDCP agencies are afraid to post the comments. They are afraid of the truth.”

The BDCP development process would be "fair, open, and transparent," according to often repeated statements by Resources Agency Secretary John Laird and others,

Ironically, these are the exact same words that state officials and their collaborators used to described the privately-funded, corrupt Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create so-called "marine protected areas" that fail to protect the ocean from fracking,oil drilling and spills, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

"Now the truth is even clearer than before that special interests--not the public-- will decide the important issues behind closed doors and the public will only see what the BDCP proponents want it to see," said Wright.

Wright said serious questions have been raised about the financial feasibility and environmental consequences of the BDCP Water Tunnels.

"The project would re-route a large portion of the Sacramento River into massive underground tunnels, to the detriment of fish, wildlife and local uses of the River and the Delta. Public debate over such a destructive and expensive public works project is essential."

"Informed public debate is the hallmark of our democracy," he stated. "The modern equivalent of the venerable town hall/public park assembly is the ability to view comments from the public via the internet regarding proposed major governmental actions. Friends of the River will continue to post the comments on its website that it is obtaining from the government agencies with regular updates in mid - April, mid - May, and early June through the end of the public comment period, now scheduled to end June 13, 2014. Unlike the BDCP proponents, Friends of the River and other protectors of our rivers and the San Francisco Bay-Delta are not afraid of the truth or contrary points of view."

For more information, you can contact: Bob Wright, Senior Counsel, Friends of the River ,BWright [at] friendsoftheriver.org 916- 442-3155 X207

I completely agree with Bob Wright and FOR - Secretary John Laird, Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham, Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin, Governor Jerry Brown and other state and federal officials are indeed afraid of the truth. Everybody who cares about democratic process, good public policy and the environment must applaud Wright and Friends of the River for standing for the First Amendment and the Constitution.

It is crucial for everybody now fighting against the construction of the twin tunnels to understand that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create alleged "marine protected areas" are intimately linked by their leadership, funding, greenwashing goals, racism and denial of tribal rights, junk science and numerous conflicts of interest. For more information, read my article, "Dark Links: the MLPA Initiative and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan," at: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/12/11/18747601.php.