One motorsports park lawsuit tossed

MERCED -- A Merced County judge has thrown out one of two lawsuits filed earlier this year opposing plans for Riverside Motorsports Park.

Presiding Judge John Kirihara ruled last week that the two environmental groups that filed the lawsuit missed a crucial filing deadline. Therefore, the lawsuit is invalid.

The San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water filed the lawsuit against Merced County in March, three months after the Board of Supervisors approved plans to build the 1,200-acre motorsports complex near Castle Airport.

To approve the project, the board had to override a previous ruling that RMP shouldn't be allowed to build near the airport's runway. The lawsuit claimed that the board didn't provide enough evidence to support that decision, and that the county didn't adequately weigh the environmental consequences of the override.

"We felt all along that this suit was filed inappropriately, and the court evidently agreed," said Mark Melville, RMP's vice president of operations. "We're pleased."

James Fincher, the county's lead attorney, said the county considers Kirihara's decision a significant victory.

Lydia Miller, president of the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, said she disagrees with the decision and may appeal.

A second lawsuit against the RMP project is pending. Four groups -- the California Farm Bureau Federation, the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources -- filed that lawsuit against the county in January.

It claims that Merced County violated the California Environmental Quality Act because it failed to evaluate adequately the noise, traffic, pollution and other environmental impacts of the racing complex before supervisors approved it.

A judge is scheduled to hear arguments in that case in November. If the environmental groups win, RMP could be forced to start over with a lengthy environmental review process.

RMP first proposed building an eight-venue, $250 million motorsports complex in 2003. Blueprints include a shopping mall, restaurants, an arcade and a lake.

In addition to professional racing events, the park would hold amateur racing, drag racing, motocross and go-cart racing, as well as concerts, car shows and festivals, the racetrack developers have said.

Those opposed to the project say it will create too many impacts detrimental to the environment. Raceway proponents say it will boost the local economy and provide sorely needed entertainment.