March Cargo Amazon Proposal Comment Letter

Amazon air cargo plane

March Cargo Amazon Future Plans

To: March Joint Powers Commission

Via: Dr. Danielle Wheeler, Executive Director March JPA   wheeler@marchjpa.com

Cc: Carey Allen, March JPA   allen@marchjpa.com

From: Friends of Riverside’s Hills

Re: Continuation to Aug. 1 Special Meeting of July 25 Agenda Item 11a – Addendum to MND for Zoning case Z04-01 – Amazon use

Honorable Chair and Members of the March Joint Powers Commission:

Friends of Riverside’s Hills (FRH), an incorporated nonprofit 501(c)(3) association devoted to protecting the environment in western Riverside County, has concerns about the proposed project, particularly potential noise impacts from air cargo flights and traffic impacts on our already congested roads, and thus opposes the project in its present form.

In late 2009, litigation between FRH and March JPA was settled with a Settlement Agreement that included the following:

“March JPA’s Obligations. The March JPA shall describe the baseline environmental conditions that apply under law at the time they release any future Notice of Preparation or, if no Notice of Preparation is prepared, at the time environmental review commences.”

(The entire said settlement agreement is hereby incorporated by reference.) Since the present project involves a substantial environmental review (even if only in connection with an addendum to a previous MND), March JPA was thus obligated to describe the baseline environmental conditions that applied at the time they began the present environmental review. Where is that description, and when was it done? We can find no mention of the baseline in the project environmental review that commences on p. 129 of the July 25 agenda. While the omission, and apparent violation of the Settlement Agreement, may be inadvertent, the matter of the baseline environmental conditions has legal importance. When describing a project’s environmental setting, CEQA mandates that “[a]n EIR must include a description of the physical environmental conditions in the vicinity of the project, as they exist at the time … environmental analysis is commenced. This environmental setting will normally constitute the baseline physical conditions by which a Lead Agency determines whether an impact is significant.” Descriptions of the project and baseline conditions are also required when preparing impact analyses short of a full EIR, such as a Mitigated Negative Declaration, as the initial study must also contain a description of the project and an identification of the environmental setting per Guidelines Section 15063(d)(2).

A concise description of the project is given In Transportation and Traffic Technical Memorandum, where it states “Proposed Project The proposed project entails reuse of the existing aviation facility for resumed air cargo operations under a new operator.” But again neither there nor anywhere in the documents provided with the agenda item can we find any discussion or justification for using the project as projected in the 2004 MND as the baseline, despite the fact that there are a number of court decisions on attempts to use other than the normal requirement to use present conditions as a baseline.

Even if no description of baseline conditions for an Addendum to an MND were normally required, it would be required here by the Settlement Agreement with FRH cited above. So again, what is the baseline for the present project? Unless one could successfully argue for a rare exception, it is the present physical conditions, which include NO cargo air operations. Specifically, it is NOT the condition at the time of DHL cargo air operations, so it is irrelevant to argue that somehow the Amazon operations will be no worse, or even better, than the DHL operations, because the time of the DHL operations, or in the 2004 MND projections of future DHL operations, is NOT the baseline – the baseline is present conditions, under which there are NO air cargo operations.

So the impacts of changes from present conditions needs to be considered, and any new impacts analyzed and mitigated for.

The projects Noise Technical Memorandum states

“Conclusions

The noise and nighttime awakenings analyses presented above demonstrate that the air cargo operations associated with the proposed project would generate less noise aircraft exposure and would decrease the potential for nighttime awakenings associated with the air cargo operations in the 2004 MND.”

But it has been nine years since the DHL air cargo operations (the ones projected in the 2004 MND) ceased, so that is the wrong baseline, and the proper comparison is with the present condition (since 2009) of NO air cargo operations.

As the Noise Technical Memorandum states,

“the percentage of residents awakened at least once during the course of the night … [f]or areas north of the airport … ranges from 3.1% to 3.8%. … For areas south of the airport, it ranges … 8.0 to 8.7%.”

Those figures are astounding. Please think of the impact on the health of all those people being awakened at least once a night by the huge noise of a low-flying passing jet aircraft. In air quality analyses one is concerned about the potential cancer impacts of one in a million, and here we have impacts (maybe not cancer, but still potentially serious healthwise) of over 8 in a hundred. But the Noise Technical Memorandum states

“there are no state or federal thresholds for evaluating impacts associated with awakenings from aircraft operations. Therefore, the results of this analysis are for informational purposes only.”

So they claim that the impacts can just be ignored? How cruel. But CEQA says if there MAY be significant impacts, which is certainly the case here using the proper baseline, then an EIR is required.

The project’s Traffic Technical Memorandum, in its Findings, claims that there are no “significant transportation or traffic impacts that are substantially more severe than significant impacts previously disclosed.” However, this is apparently not true regarding noise impacts. Indeed since the noise impacts revealed in the present project’s Noise Technical Memorandum, in particular on awakenings (even with only half the previous flights), are so severe, one can only conclude that the 2004 MND (to which this is an Addendum) DID NOT DISCLOSE the extent of those impacts, since if it had disclosed them, it would not have qualified for an MND but rather an EIR would then have been required. Thus the extent of these impacts is NEWLY DISCLOSED, AND THE PROJECT DOES NOT QUALIFY FOR AN ADDENDUM TO THE PREVIOUS MND.

We have been informed that Amazon is now proposing to not do nighttime flights (between 10 pm and 7 am), but it appears that in the revised environmental study there is no language about Amazon voluntarily refraining from flying night flights in perpetuity. The obvious thing to do is to make the restriction on night flights a Mitigation Measure, and thus permanent and enforceable. However, we are informed that a Commission member stated “The JPA staff informed the JPA commission that the FAA does NOT allow FAA (grant) funded airports to restrict hours of operations. Older airports with restrictions like John Wayne and Burbank were grandfathered in.” Certainly such a mitigation measure would be entirely appropriate under CEQA, but If it is true that such a mitigation measure banning night flights is not feasible for the reason claimed by JPA staff, then we have a situation in which there is a (newly disclosed) significant impact that cannot be avoided, calling for approval of overriding considerations, which under CEQA can only be done with a full EIR, not an Addendum to a previous MND.

In any case, there are too many problems with the project as proposed, and it cannot legally be approved with an Addendum as proposed by JPA staff.

Thank you for your consideration.

Friends of Riverside’s Hills, by its Legal Liaison Officer Richard Block

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