New Church Project Report Faces Old Objections

Editor’s Note: The Mountain News will be providing ongoing coverage of the Church of the Woods Project development that will detail key issues raised by the community, Church of the Woods and preservation groups on the mountain.

Around fifteen years after the initial Environmental Impact Report process began, a local conservation group said a recently released, 376-page Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report (DREIR) for the Church of the Woods’ proposed development remains an insufficient study into the effects the project will have in the mountain ecosystem.

The proposed project site is located immediately north of State Highway 18, west of Daley Canyon Road and east of Scenic Way, in Rimforest and would mean the development of approximately 13.6 acres.

That development would include:

A two-story building consisting of a 27,364-square-foot gymnatorium and a 41,037-square-foot assembly building/children’s ministry, located on the southeast portion of the site;

One 1,500-square-foot maintenance building, caretaker residence and lavatory facilities, located on the southwest portion of the site;

One 54,000-square-foot sports field, located in the southwest corner of the site;

Sports courts located in the south central portion of the site;

One 7,838-square- foot water quality retention basin, on the south central portion of the site;

Associated on-site drainage facilities, utility connections, landscaped areas, pedestrian pathways, internal circulation roadways, driveways and parking areas would be constructed;

Approximately 13.5 acres of the site would remain as natural open space.

Steven Farrel, conservation chair of the Sierra Club’s San Bernardino Mountains Group, submitted a seven-page letter to the County of San Bernardino outlining what he believes to be problems with the DREIR.

Fundamental project information was missing from the DREIR, Farrel said in the letter.

“Therefore any analysis of the project’s environmental impacts and/or mitigations remains inadequate, in spite of the now almost burdensome complexity and detail of what has been provided,” Farrel added.

Farrel added that the site of the proposed development is of special biological interest to the mountain area.

“It is a rare and valuable habitat for both listed and common species,” Farrel said.

The project site is an ideal habitat to at least three special-status species: the Southern Rubber Boa, California Spotted Owl and the San Bernardino Flying Squirrel.

In the DREIR, Church of the Woods has outlined the required steps that must be taken before any construction or clearing of vegetation begins:

Pre-construction survey for the Southern Rubber Boa, California Spotted Owl, and San Bernardino Flying Squirrel by an approved biologist 30 days before any ground disturbing activities;

A copy of the results of the survey must be submitted to the San Bernardino County Planning Department before any vegetation being cleared;

If any of the three species were spotted during the pre-construction survey, the project biologist must notify the California Department of Fish and Wildlife immediately;

An approved biologist must be on-site during all vegetation clearing, who can halt the clearing if any of the species are spotted;

Church of the Woods must provide proof that the plan includes a permanent preservation and management plan for the species.

The 13.5 acres of open space would be used as hiking trails, fuel modification zones and undisturbed forested areas, according to the DREIR.

In addition to the potential harm to wildlife, Farrel also cited concerns over mountain hydrology, tree removal, evacuation planning, water supply and aesthetics.

Church of the Woods was unable to be reached for comment before publication.

Christian Shepherd can be reached at cshepherd@mountain-news.com.