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By Casey Christie / The Californian
BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer email@example.com
On her way out the door, the outgoing chairwoman of the Westpark Home Owners Association took a last shot at Caltrans, the agency leading construction of a freeway segment through Westpark, a southwest Bakersfield neighborhood.
Amy Richardson, a therapist who has stepped down from her elected office after five years due to health reasons cast aspersions on Caltrans' months-long delay in releasing an environmental impact report on Centennial Corridor, which would connect Highway 58 to the Westside Parkway and, eventually, Interstate 5.
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The agency was supposed to release its EIR on the $694 million freeway link this spring, but the date has since been pushed back to late 2013 or early 2014 -- a change Richardson said smacks of behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
"The rumor is that the air would be worsened because of this freeway," Richardson said. "We think Caltrans is sending it back for more, trying to pressure whoever it is who did the report into tweaking it in some way, so that they can get by with it."
Caltrans Project Manager Steve Milton, who is handling Centennial Corridor, vigorously denied the accusation, saying that the report has required extra time to produce, due to its imposing physical size -- anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 pages -- and to ongoing revisions suggested by follow-up with the state regulatory agencies that will review it upon completion.
"We had some issues because, Bakersfield possibly being the worst city relative to air quality in the nation ... and then we're adding a job that, in concept, adds more cars to the (freeway) system," Milton said, adding that the freeway is expected to meet air quality standards.
"What (other agencies) didn't realize is, it's decreasing cars sitting at stoplights on the local road. When we did our studies a different way, they're like, 'Well, now, that explains it.' "
Notice that Richardson would be resigning effective immediately was posted on one of the group's two Facebook pages on Aug. 14, although a group member contacted Thursday said she had not heard about the resignation.
Richardson, who said she was elected in 2008, spearheaded WHOA's move to nonprofit status earlier this year.
Members of the group, which has existed for at least 20 years, said she will be missed.
"Amy was the one who got the ball rolling. We're working on figuring out who's basically going to pick up the flag and lead the charge, so to speak," said WHOA member Marc Caputo, adding that the group hopes to elect a new leader later this month.
Richardson's departure also comes as city officials weigh how to raise $270 million in federal matching funds to pay Bakersfield's share of costs for Centennial Corridor and other highway projects -- and whether the Corridor should be built in its selected location.