FRESNO — A county judge gave the University of California approval Tuesday to begin construction on its new Merced campus, rejecting a suit by environmental groups.
Judge William Ivey ruled in Merced County Superior Court that plans for the campus met state environmental requirements, clearing the way for construction to start on 100 acres later this month, said Patti Istas, a university spokeswoman.
Environmental groups claimed university officials did not adequately evaluate the campus’ impact on air pollution, water quality and surrounding areas.
“We don’t have the map or any type of understanding of what they want to put where,” said Lydia Miller of the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center. “They are basically saying, ’Just trust us and we’ll take care of it later.”’
Attorney Patience Milrod, who represented the center and two other environmental groups, said she would ask the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno on Wednesday to halt construction pending an appeal.
Last month, Ivey allowed the university to demolish three Merced Hills Golf Club buildings to clear the way for building.
Construction beyond the golf course depends on a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The agency is considering whether to allow the campus on wetlands where vernal pools are home to endangered fairy shrimp and serve as feeding grounds for migratory birds.
While the controversy over the tiny shrimp has gained wide attention, Milrod said the university is ignoring the larger problem of showing there’s an ample water supply for a campus that will ultimately have 25,000 students.
She said the university has not studied how it will deliver water to the campus and what impact it will have on a depleted aquifer or other environmental concerns, such as endangered species.
“This is the most powerful research institution in the country, maybe in the world, and they can’t figure this out,” Milrod said. “I think it’s an insult to the people of this valley.”
The first phase of the campus includes classrooms, libraries an office building and housing to be opened by Sept. 2004. About 1,000 students are projected to attend.