“All this has happened before, and it will all happen again.” –
Peter Pan Walt Disney Pictures 1953
Last week, utilizing a Freedom of Information Act request, Charlottesville Tomorrow obtained an Army Corps of Engineers letter to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) critical of the US 29 Western Bypass moving forward without additional study up to perhaps, a new full Environmental Impact Statement.
Rather than citing specific data lapses and specific federal wetlands concerns, the Army Corps of Engineers letter relies on data provided by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Charlottesville/Albemarle Transportation Coalition (CATCO). That these two organizations were called out, in SELC’s case cited four times by name, suggests the Army Corps of Engineers was heavily lobbied.
The letter, which missed the processes required deadline due to “workload …and the complexity of the matters at hand”, suggests that the Environmental Assessment (EA) process be rewound to start and reconsider all the alternative routes and solutions.
The past is clearly prologue here because on this specific road this matter was heard and addressed in Piedmont Environmental and Sierra Club v. United States Department of Transportation lawsuit. The suit was returned supporting FHWA decision on all but one count and this was supported in the appellate decision. The final count, which could have been legally defended was mitigated and removed in 2003.
Interestingly on page 20 of Federal Judge Norman Moon’s 40 page decision the court found the contention regarding a lack of consideration of alternatives was “completely without merit”.
Fast forward just under a decade and you see the Army Corps of Engineers, under significant lobbing from the left, utilizing many of the same facts as were decided in the PEC case. Recognizing the Army Corps self identified “workload” issues, it is easy to see how legal language from well placed letters with cut and paste legal language may have found their way into the Corps letter.
While we were disappointed in the Army Corps letter, both in content and timing, the Free Enterprise Forum believes FHWA still retains the ability to approve the roadway with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Most if not all of the concerns raised in the Army Corps letter were dealt with as a part of the 2001 Moon decision. Any new regulatory requirements could be mitigated as the project applies for and receives permits from the Corps.
Perhaps Yogi Berra said it best, “It’s déjà vu all over again”
Neil Williamson, President
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.