FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By Neil Williamson, President
For the last eight weeks, well funded transportation obstructionist organizations have attempted to hijack the US29 Bypass Environmental Assessment review process by changing the dynamics and falsely suggesting this week’s input session is a hurdle that must be crossed to allow the EA to move forward.
In addition these groups are using a classic form of rhetorical argument where if you do not like the answer change the question. This creation of “Obstacle Illusions” is confusing and misinforming the public.
Please let me explain.
According to their website on September 27th the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be holding a meeting to:
provide the public an opportunity to review and comment on the Environmental Assessment on the Route 29 Charlottesville Bypass project.
The meeting will be held at Jack Jouett Middle School from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in an open forum format. The school is located at 210 Lambs Lane, Charlottesville, VA 22901.
Written and oral comments will be taken at the meeting. Written comments may also be submitted by Oct. 9, 2012, to Ms. Angel Deem, Environmental Division, Virginia Department of Transportation, 1221 E. Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219, or by email to Route29BypassEA@VDOT.Virginia.gov.
Please put “Route 29 Charlottesville Bypass Environmental Assessment” in the subject line.
It is important to note, this public input session is not mandated by Federal or State code it is an additional step VDOT is taking at the request of local officials. The goal of the meeting is to accept feedback from the public regarding the EA.
The EA seeks to answer the question of measuring the environmental impacts, the metrics used and, if the measurements exceed acceptable levels, what mitigation will be completed.
In print and television advertisements, opponents have suggested this is the opportunity to speak out against the US 29 Bypass. These advertisements suggest the public meeting is a hearing on the bypass itself creating an “obstacle illusion” that the outcome of this input meeting could stop the bypass.
One Letter to the Editor suggested “The bypass will operate to our detriment for the next 50 years in terms of meeting future needs.” (John Martin Daily Progress September 24th). Clearly Mr. Martin is not directing his comments to the EA but rather the decision to fund the roadway.
The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club chose to focus their opposition on materials that might be permitted to be transported on the proposed roadway rather than the roadway’s direct environmental impacts:
“Presence of nuclear industries at Lynchburg suggests that radioactive materials and other goods related to nuclear industries will be transported on the Route 29 Bypass if it is built.”
Really???? The nuclear card?? And if the Bypass is not built wouldn’t those same materials go right through the heart of the community???????
It seems equally ironic that Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) suggests in his September 23rd Daily Progress Letter to the Editor that the focus of the September 27th meeting should be on roadway design not the Environmental Assessment.
In a fun, albeit inaccurate, slide show on the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) website, Field Officer Jeff Werner suggests that six of the “doable” projects discussed in Places29 may not be funded if the bypass goes forward. Werner is well aware that three of the six fixes (North US29 lane expansion, Hillsdale Drive Extension, “Best Buy” Ramp) are already moving forward with actions by the Secretary of Transportation or the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB)
The inconvenient truth (to borrow a phrase from Al Gore) is that those opposed to the road can’t argue with the methods and metrics included in VDOT’s Environmental Assessment. Instead they are rallying support and donations on a false premise regarding the meeting’s purpose.
We fully anticipate the majority of participants in this week’s meeting will focus incorrectly on the roadway design due to the opponents’ aggressive advertising efforts.
It is unfortunate that thanks to road blocking groups fanning the flames of self serving “obstacle illusion”, VDOT will likely not get informed public comment on their well written Environmental Assessment.
**Editor’s Note 9/27/12 John Martin Letter to the Editor quote corrected -nw.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.