People who care about nature are often depicted as knee-jerk naysayers by right-wing propagandists. In fact, nearly all environmentalists I know are eager to work with people in the community to preserve natural lands and beauty. Perhaps this claim sounds absurdly idealistic, even Panglossian. But here’s an example that should prove the point to anyone in Ventura County with an open mind.
Last winter, torrential rains and floods washed away a good deal of Santa Paula Airport. Rebuilding the airport–which is central to this struggling town’s economy–required working in the Santa Clara River, one of the last wild rivers in Southern California. Nonetheless Ventura county watershed authorities and even the Nature Conservancy were eager to see such repairs begin; in fact, the Nature Conservancy agreed to a land swap to enable construction, according to this story in the LA Times:
Jeff Pratt, director of the Watershed Protection District, said about $6 million would be spent replacing the airport land that was washed away and protecting the new fill dirt from storms. The repairs wouldn’t have been possible, he said, without the conservancy’s cooperation.
In response, according to this story in the Ventura County Star, California State Fish and Game sued, arguing that the rock wall that would be built to protect the runway from the river was new construction, not merely a replacement to an existing installation. This contention was overruled last month by Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh.
"When you’re working in conservation, you need to realize the needs of the community must be met while you’re trying to achieve your goals," said E.J. Remson, the conservancy’s point man in Ventura County. "It never occurred to us to say ‘no’ to the airport and put one of the city’s largest private employers out of business. It’s too important to the community."
One question remains: Why did the state authorities contest this action, when the Nature Conservancy, the Friends of the Santa Clara River, the local authorities, and the US Department of Fish and Game did not? That’s the sort of question I wish more environmental reporters would ask. But the point is, the community worked to preserve the beauty of the river, which still flows free…