From: Garance Burke, Associated Press
Published March 23, 2007 12:00 AM

Judge Rules Yosemite Park Can Continue Repairs While Waiting on Environmentalists' Case

FRESNO, Calif. -- Yosemite National Park can proceed with $60 million in construction projects while a court hears a lawsuit claiming commercial development threatens the fragile ecosystem, a federal judge said Thursday.


Park rangers praised the ruling and said being able to fix a failing sewage system and repave a road that loops through Yosemite Valley would ensure visitors could experience the park in its most pristine form.


"As we proceed into a busy summer season, being able to get this road work done as soon as possible will benefit everybody," said park spokesman Scott Gediman. "We're ecstatic."


Yosemite's advocates have for years debated how to balance preservation of its scenic wilderness while maintaining access to public lands.


In 2000, environmental groups sued the government, claiming the National Park Service's plans to develop the valley would jeopardize the federally protected Merced River, which courses alongside famous granite monoliths and dramatic waterfalls.


U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii sided with the environmentalists in November and barred crews from repairing the road and sewer system, as well as from moving campgrounds, rerouting a key access road and upgrading hotel rooms on the valley floor.


The government appealed and asked for the right to proceed with "emergency" repairs only.


Neither Friends of Yosemite Valley nor Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government immediately returned calls seeking comment Thursday.


The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments this summer, Gediman said.


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