Groups want Brown Field project halted to protect burrowing owl habitat

SD City Council OK'd Metropolitan Airpark project

SAN DIEGO - It's a huge investment in San Diego's economic future, but some are now asking for it to be stopped, citing the future of the burrowing owl.

In October, the San Diego City Council approved the $900 million Metropolitan Airpark project. In the next two decades, the project will add hangars, a transit center, hotels, restaurants and an industrial park to Brown Field.

The park is expected to be a huge boon for the local cross-border economy, but some say it will also mean a huge disaster for one of the airport's inhabitants.

"The burrowing owl population at Brown Field is the last large population we have in San Diego County," said Rick Halsey, director of the California Chaparral Institute.

Halsey said as of a year ago, there were more than 15 owls living in San Diego County. They dig and live in burrows, with some under helopads.

The species is considered sensitive and has nearly disappeared in the county.

"If they eliminate the open spaces they like, like the ones at Brown Field, the burrowing owls will eventually be extinct in the county," Halsey said.

Halsey's group and several others groups have filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming the project violates state and federal laws and endanger the owls and vernal pools habitats.

The groups are hoping a lawsuit will also lead to more answers after a 2012 report by environmental groups detailing evidence of toxic chemicals being poured down the owl burrows, while other burrows were filled up with gravel.

"It's unconscionable what's been going on," said Halsey.

As for the lawsuit claims, because of the Thanksgiving holiday, city officials couldn't be reached for comment, but in the environmental impact report, this statement:

"The city finds that the project's adverse, unavoidable environmental impacts are outweighed by the ... public benefits."

Project developer Richard Sax of Distinctive Projects said they have submitted a very comprehensive environmental plan and will develop a plan addressing the concerns in the lawsuit.

Sax told 10News he hopes to resolve the litigation amicably.

The San Diego City Attorney's Office declined to comment on the matter.

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