MONROE – The future of the proposed Monroe Bypass is unclear now as the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled Thursday, May 3, that the N.C. Department of Transportation violated federal policy.
The lawsuit, brought against the state by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina, North Carolina Wildlife Federation and Yadkin Riverkeeper, accused the state and Federal Highway Administration of not doing its due diligence in conducting environmental impact studies for the bypass.
Since 2010, the SELC has contended the state and other agencies violated the National Environmental Protection Act, which requires those impact studies, and argued not only did the state not conduct those studies but they fed inconsistent data to the public.
The court’s opinion, written by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, stated, “Because the agencies failed to disclose critical assumptions underlying their decision to build the road and instead provided the public with incorrect information, they did indeed violate NEPA. … The agencies failed to take the required ‘hard look’ at environmental consequences.”
The ruling was a welcome one for the SELC.
“This is a wake-up call for NCDOT and transportation agencies around the country that the only legal way to assess environmental impacts of building major highways is to factor in resulting sprawl development on the landscape,” said David Farren, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, in a news release Thursday.
He said this is one of only a few federal appellate rulings dealing with the fundamental precept that DOTs fully consider these secondary and cumulative impacts of building major highways when conducting environmental impact studies under the National Environmental Policy Act.
And while the SELC and environmental agencies are pleased, Thursday’s ruling is a blow for the NCDOT and proponents of the $725 million project that would create a 19.7-mile road from Interstate 485 and U.S. 74 in Mecklenburg County to U.S. 74 between Wingate and Marshville.
A prepared statement from the NCDOT said, “We have received the opinion from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on the Monroe Bypass case. We are reviewing the ruling with our legal and environmental experts. Once we have reviewed this ruling, we will work on our legal and procedural options to advance the project by addressing the court’s concerns as soon as possible. While this ruling will cause delays, it does not mean the project will not move forward. We hope to have a new plan and timeline developed and released to the public within the next few weeks.”
It is unclear how much work the state transportation department must now do in order to meet the court’s rulings and federal guidelines.
To see the court’s official ruling, visit www.unioncountyweekly.com.