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Suit targets project by mountain church

Staff Writer

RUNNING SPRINGS - Three groups that want a Mormon church to do a
comprehensive environmental study before building on a 7.7-acre site in
this mountain community took their battle to court this week.

The Save Our Forest Association, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society
and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the county in San
Bernardino Superior Court on Tuesday.

The conservation groups want an injunction to prevent the church project
on Highway 18 from moving forward without more study.

They claim the county erred by not requiring an environmental impact
report for the development. The report would address factors such as
potential growth inducement and would require the church to look at
other sites.

The groups barely made a 30-day deadline to file the suit. The clock
started ticking on Sept. 14 after the San Bernardino County Board of
Supervisors unanimously denied their appeal of an earlier Planning
Commission approval.

"They waited until the very last day, which says to me that their intent
is to delay this project,' said Leopoldo Garcia, a project manager for
the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Lake Arrowhead.

He said the church has done every study the county and the California
Department of Fish and Game required.

"We are not trying to sneak anything by,' he said.

Officials even reduced the size of the planned church from 25,000 square
feet to 12,868 square feet to address concerns.

San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society member Peter Jorris said studies
commissioned by the church are not independent evaluations of the
project's possible effects on the forest.

"There is a little less of a tendency to manipulate the studies if they
are done under a formal (environmental impact report),' he said.

The conservation groups are worried about how the construction will
affect sensitive species such as the southern rubber boa, the California
spotted owl and the San Bernardino flying squirrel.

County Planning Commissioner Theresa Kwappenberg the only member to vote
against exempting the church project from further study said she is
worried about fire hazards since the site is near a canyon that can
channel flames into the mountains.

"There is nothing you can do to stop that fire,' she said.

Kwappenberg is also concerned about how the church parking lot will
affect runoff in an area already prone to landslides.

Church members have said the new site is needed because they have to
drive to Lake Arrowhead to attend services and other church functions.
The trip can take up to 20 minutes and can turn perilous in inclement
weather, they said.

Proponents also contend the project will improve fire safety by getting
rid of dead trees and will also prevent illegal dumping, which is common
on the vacant site.
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