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County Slams Environmental Review of Chumash Camp 4 Project

Santa Barbara County officials sent a 55-page letter to a federal agency on Friday, maintaining that not enough environmental review has been done to fully measure the impacts on the Santa Ynez Valley if a development by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians were to go forward.

The Camp 4 fee-to-trust proposal involves 1,433 acres in the center of the Santa Ynez Valley currently zoned exclusively for agriculture, but the tribe has expressed intentions to develop the area for housing and other uses. 

"The project proposes 143 residential dwellings ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, as well as an on-site wastewater treatment plant, roads, and other infrastructure on a largely pristine set of parcels that are home to an intact, self-sustaining oak woodland and active agriculture," according to a letter from county CEO Mona Miyasato sent to Amy Dutschke at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Miyasato stated that the county asked the federal government to prepare a complete environmental impact statement for Camp 4, "at a time when relevant environmental impacts can be fully analyzed — at or near the end of the contractual restrictions on the land on Dec. 31, 2022, when the parcel's Williamson Act contract expires.

Miyasato said an environmental assessment is appropriate only "where no effect on the environment is possible," and that an environmental impact statement for Camp 4 must be prepared.

Officials from the tribe did not respond directly to the question of environmental review, but noted that the county has turned down offers from the Chumash to pay for police and fire protection.

"The county’s opposition is not a 'resource' issue, but rather only a smoke screen for their opposition to all tribal projects," Tribal Chairmam Vince Armenta said in a statement. "Camp 4 will be a first-class housing development that will be as good if not superior in quality and design than that of our neighbors who oppose Camp 4. The tribe’s commitment to high quality has been proven again and again by our award-winning properties."

The tribe's application proposes significant residential and related development on five different parcels of land making up 1,433 acres in the valley beginning in 2023, the county maintains.

"Camp 4 would be the largest and most significant development in the valley in the last 50 years, yet the environmental review for the project, the environmental assessment remains wholly inadequate," the county's letter stated.

The county maintains that the document uses a present day baseline for a development that won't proceed for almost a decade because of the contractual restrictions on the land.

"Doing so almost certainly understates many of Camp 4’s impacts on environmental resources," the comments said.

In March 2013, the tribe submitted a consolidation plan that included about 11,500 acres of the Santa Ynez Valley, including Camp 4.

The BIA approved the consolidation plan in June 2013, and several parties, including the county, appealed the decision. In July 2013, the tribe submitted an application for transfer of title for fee lands into trust for Camp 4.

Last fall, the tribe withdrew its consolidation plan, and the BIA dismissed the pending appeals. The tribe prepared and submitted a revised application for Camp 4 that removed references of the consolidation plans.

As of May 2014, the BIA released the environmental assessment for that application, and the comment deadline expires on Monday.

The county's letter also states that the application is inconsistent with local zoning ordinances and other county codes, and "greatly exceeds the allowable uses and densities for the area."

One of the points of contention made by the county is that the tribe currently has an approximately 138-acre reservation to accommodate its 136 tribal members.

The environmental documents don't explain why a re-build of the existing reservation isn't a reasonable alternative, and "redeveloping the existing residential area on the reservation with a mixed-use, higher density 143 unit housing development would limit environmental impacts and address housing needs," the letter stated.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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