Conservation groups fault state process
In two weeks a judge will sit down 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.
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. Monroe-based Boggs Paving, Anderson Columbia Company, United Infrastructure and design firm Rummel, Klepper and Kahl LLP have the contract to build the road.
“This is a de novo review. It’s taking a fresh look at the arguments made at the Federal District Court level,” law center 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.”
If built as envisioned, the $725 million Monroe connector/bypass project will construct a 19.7-mile long roadway beginning at Interstate 485 and U.S. 74 in Matthews to the towns of Wingate and Marshville in eastern Union County.
In Nov. 2010, the center 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, the center 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 center 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, center 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 N.C. 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.
In a reply brief from the center, filed on Feb. 1, 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 (National Environmental Policy Act). 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 Southern Environmental Law Center partners with environmental associations by providing them legal representation at no cost. And in 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.