Conservation groups fault NC DOT process
A judge will sit down in two weeks to hear arguments in the latest fight over the Monroe Bypass. The case is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals March 21, as the Southern Environmental Law Center seeks to reverse the summary judgment against their case by the U.S. District Court last October. The Center represents three conservation organizations; the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Clean Air Carolina and the Yadkin Riverkeeper.
“This is a de novo review, its taking a fresh look at the arguments made at the Federal District Court level.” SELC attorney Chandra Taylor said, “Because [the presentation before the court is] a short period of time, each side will get 20 minutes, we will focus on the interests of the court.”
In Nov. 2010, the SELC filed suit, arguing that building the bypass would endanger the environment. The center alleged only information collected from the western end of the road was submitted to the state, giving a skewed picture of the project’s potential impact. Additionally, SELC alleged inconsistent data was used in assessing the impact on streams in the Yadkin River water basin.
The U.S. District Court rejected those claims, saying the Turnpike Authority followed procedure, with data to back up each step in the process. The SELC disagreed, filing an appeal Oct. 31.
“Often you are directed to specific areas of interest by the judges hearing the case.” Taylor said, “We are asking the court to send it back to the agency for a proper environmental review.”
In the December 19 brief, SELC attorneys argued that the state “failed to consider a number of reasonable alternatives, such as upgrades of U.S. 74 as recommended by the state’s own consultant.” They further argued that the Department of Transportation “violated environmental policy by acting in bad faith and misleading the public and other agencies when they denied that the Bypass was assumed in the socioeconomic data at a time when the defendants knew better.
If built as envisioned, the $725 million Monroe connector/bypass project will construct a 19.7-mile long roadway beginning at I-485 and US 74 in east Mecklenburg County to US 74, just between the towns of Wingate and Marshville in eastern Union County.
The bypass will include interchanges at Indian Trail-Fairview Rd., Unionville-Indian Trail Rd., North Rocky River Road, US 601, Morgan Hill Rd., Austin Cheney Rd. and finally at US 74.
In the Plaintiffs Appellants Reply Brief, filed on February 1 by the SELC, claims are made that the defendants made false statements that undercut the basic purpose of the environmental policy and concealed the fundamental error that ran throughout their analysis.
“They compared building the road to building the road and then denied it, when they knew better.” the brief reads, “In other words, Defendants never conducted or published a valid analysis of impacts or alternatives as required by NEPA.”
“The essence of NEPA is that the process and its methodologies be reasonable, that it be open to the public and other agencies, and that the information used be accurate and truthfully presented.” the brief stated.
The Southern Environmental Law Center partners with environmental associations by providing them legal representation at no cost. An this case, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, and North Carolina Wildlife Federation and the Charlotte-based Clean-Air Carolina pay all the court related costs and fees.
The SELC is active throughout the Southeast, currently they are involved a number of North Carolina issues including the Bonner Bridge replacement on the Outer Banks, natural gas production through fracking, development near mountain streams in western North Carolina and limits on landfills.
A ruling is expected by late summer. In the meantime N.C. Turnpike Authority is buying right away access for the road which they expect to complete by 2015.