Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Yosemite’s Merced River plan delayed again

Yosemite National Park‘s long-running effort to finish a protection plan for the Merced River just got a little longer.

The U.S. District Court in Fresno Thursday granted a delay in the controversial plan until Dec. 31. It was supposed to be completed by July 31 — a date set by a previous request for a delay. Yosemite needs time to process more than 30,000 comments received this year on the draft.

The National Park Service and the activist groups late Wednesday filed papers to push off the deadline, which adds time to an effort that already is more than a decade old. This is the third version of the plan since 2000. Previous versions were struck down by federal courts.

The current plan is a result of a lawsuit settlement between activists and the Park Service in 2009.

Park Service leaders say they are not reopening the comment period on the controversial plan, as business leaders and many others had hoped. Many had pushed hard this year to reopen the process because they opposed removing the ice rink at Curry Village and several other amenities.

The plan was attacked earlier this month in a hearing before the House of Representatives. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, led a Republican charge to leave the amenities untouched.

He termed the plan “exclusionary and elitist,” and asked, if facilities are removed from Yosemite Valley, “where does a dad go to get ice cream for a kid on a hot summer’s day?”

Activist groups, including Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government, also want to negotiate the content of the draft. They and the Park Service are asking for time for that negotiation.

There were no specifics in court documents about the activists’ concerns.


Fracking opponents hail court ruling, Fresno County land involved

The fracking story Sunday from my colleague Lewis Griswold outlined the vast and lucrative oil opportunities in Monterey shale along the San Joaquin Valley’s west side.

The Valley, indeed, could be a key place to do this business, but not without controversy.

On Monday, environmentalists were cheering a federal court decision that might slow fracking exploration in Monterey County and a small part of west Fresno County.

It could be an important ruling in California and elsewhere for this hot topic.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management a few years ago sold the oil and gas leases for hydraulic fracturing on 2,343 acres in Monterey County and 240 acres in Fresno County. Hyraulic fracturing involves injecting water and chemicals to create conduits for trapped oil and gas to migrate.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club sued, saying BLM had not fully investigated the risks. Environmentalists, some landowners and scientists have raised the possibility of underground water contamination and air quality issues.

In the March 31 ruling, a federal magistrate in San Jose said federal authorities broke the law by selling the leases in west Fresno and Monterey counties to oil drillers without studying the possible risks of hydraulic fracturing.

In his decision, U.S. Magistrate Paul Grewal wrote that the BLM argues the effects of fracking are largely unknown.

“The court agrees,” he wrote. “But this is precisely why proper investigation was so crucial in this case.”

Environmentalists want the lease sales thrown out. Instead, the court told federal authorities and environmentalists to confer on a remedy and submit it to the court by April 15.

Ishii’s federal judge replacement in Fresno is on the slow track

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Sacramento Superior Court Judge Troy Nunley to serve as a U.S. District Court judge in the eastern federal judicial district.

Don’t expect a similar vote any time soon in the eastern district’s other courthouse here in Fresno, where U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii’s position is also open.

Anthony W. Ishii

President Barack Obama, it appears, wants to send out a second applicant call and see if additional people seek the position.

U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, trade off making recommendations for federal judicial vacancies, each advised by a panel of experts. It is Boxer’s turn to offer a replacement for Ishii.

Fresno attorney Don Fischbach, who chairs Boxer’s screening committee for the Eastern District of California, said the panel had been vetting candidates, but “we didn’t have a great number of applicants like we usually do.”

Fischbach said once the election was over last November and Obama won a second term, “the White House said put out the word for further applicants.”

Already, Fischbach said he knows of a few people in the legal community who are interested and are filling out applications.

The initial process began after Ishii informed the White House he planned to take “senior status.” That was in November 2011. Fischbach said the review panel last fall finished its work on the initial batch of applicants.

At that time, the pending election had stopped virtually all work in Washington, including the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is also possible the unknown status of Obama’s reelection may have stopped some people from going through the application process.

Whatever the case, once Obama won, the White House said “let’s open the door again,” Fischbach said.

Now that the word is out, there are at least two or three more people who are interested, Fischbach said.

There is no deadline, though the panel wants to finish its work as soon as possible — hopefully in the next 60 days, Fischbach said.

“But no deadline has been set by either Senator Boxer or the White House,” he added.

Whenever that decision comes, it can’t be soon enough for the Fresno courthouse, which struggles with a per-judge caseload that is at or near tops in the nation.

By taking senior status, Ishii is officially recognized as retired — and his judicial post comes open. But — as others locally have done before him — Ishii is staying on and keeping a full caseload.

This strategy has for well over a decade allowed Fresno to keep a third judge, when it is officially only allotted two positions.