MCFB continuing legal battle over Gunner Ranch West project

MCFB continuing legal battle over Gunner Ranch West project

The Madera County Farm Bureau has filed additional litigation challenging the Madera County Board of Supervisors’ approval of the Gunner Ranch West Specific Plan Project.

Last week, the Madera County Farm Bureau (MCFB) filed a Reply Brief in its lawsuit opposing the controversial project.

According to Christina Beckstead, MCFB executive director, the nonprofit organization brought the lawsuit because of “grave concerns regarding a development project that threatens scarce groundwater.”

Madera County supervisors approved the Gunner Ranch West project in July 2014.

The project’s backer, area landowner and developer Richard Gunner, plans to build as many as 3,000 residential units, more than 2 million square feet of commercial property, 1.1 million square feet of hospital-related services, a medical offices building, government facilities, a community center and wastewater treatment plant.

The project site is located south of Avenue 10 near Children’s Hospital on 1,000 acres of orchards and open space

Officials estimate Gunner Ranch West could result in more than 8,200 new jobs at build-out.

MCFB officials had urged supervisors not to approve the Gunner Ranch West Specific Plan until county officials could identify alternative water supplies, saying the project poses significant threats to the region’s water supply — and to Madera County farmers.

In its most recent legal challenge, MCFB argues that the County “did not address the uncertainties in the proposed groundwater supply, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and California’s Water Supply Assessment Law (SB 610).”

MCFB’s brief also states: “The question of water supply for the Project is of paramount concern to the Farm Bureau because groundwater, the sole source of water proposed for the Project, is in increasingly scarce supply in the region. Groundwater has been especially important during this prolonged drought because it has been the lifeblood for some of Petitioner’s members and other farmers to irrigate their lands and is relied upon by thousands of County residents for their domestic water supply.”

Beckstead said her organization believes the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Water Supply Assessment (WSA) are “legally defective” under California law.

MCFB also believes the proposed water supply for the Gunner Ranch project is inadequate to assure a long-term source of water as the law requires for residential and commercial development.

“The EIR and WSA did not identify any alternative water supplies,” MCFB stated in a press release issued Tuesday.

Last week, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) identified 21 critically overdrafted groundwater basins, which included Madera County and Chowchilla Sub-basins. DWR said the overdrafted conditions were due, at least in part, to excessive groundwater pumping.

In the lawsuit, MCFB also notes that the aquifer upon which the project will depend is “known to be contaminated” with several pollutants, including arsenic, manganese and nitrates.

“The Project’s EIR,” the suit claims, “provides scant information of the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the Project’s water treatment and delivery systems. Both CEQA and SB 610 require the infrastructure planning to be completed prior to approving the tentative subdivision map. Waiting to design these elements until the final map defeats CEQA and Water Code planning policies.”