Indiana Public Interest Organizations Seek Legal Review of Federal Agency Decision on I-69 Project

Indiana Public Interest Organizations Seek Legal Review of Federal Agency Decision on I-69 Project

February 27, 2013 Updated Feb 27, 2013 at 2:30 PM EDT

The Hoosier Environmental Council and Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads are seeking to overturn a Clean Water Act permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Section 4 of the new-terrain I-69 highway project. 

According to a news release issued Wednesday:

This permit allows the state of Indiana to fill in wetlands and streams along the highway’s route between Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center and Bloomington.  HEC and CARR are the plaintiffs in this action filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the defendant. 

“HEC believes in a vibrant economy for Southwest Indiana, and a vibrant economy comes by preserving – not destroying -- the region’s great ecological features,” said Tim Maloney, Senior Policy Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.   “By our pursuing this litigation, HEC aims to protect this natural landscape from needless damage.   We also seek to promote fiscal responsibility – a core Hoosier value – by continuing to question the excessive expenditure of scarce public highway dollars, particularly in light of the fact that a cheaper, less damaging alternative becomes increasingly compelling from an economic and environmental perspective.”
Construction of this 26 mile stretch of I-69 would cause the most environmental damage of any section along the entire route of the highway, based on the combination of high quality natural lands that would be destroyed or disturbed. These impacts include as much as 1,100 acres of mature hardwood forest cut down, almost all of which is core forest that provides key habitat for songbirds, bobcats, and the endangered Indiana bat; filling over 16 miles of streams that support freshwater fisheries; and, disturbing or damaging as many as 450 irreplaceable caves, sinkholes and springs that are a unique part of Indiana’s geological heritage.  

In pursuing this litigation, HEC also seeks accountability of the government agencies that are responsible for assuring that publicly-funded projects and accompanying permits follow the law, protect our environment, and respect private property rights.   

Given all of the questions and concerns surrounding the new-terrain I-69 project, the groups’ legal action is not only warranted because of the environmental damage that construction will cause, but also because it is necessary to bring awareness to Hoosiers regarding how  their public dollars are being  spent on the I-69 highway project.  For example:

•    For Section 4, the state faces costly construction challenges in the rugged karst terrain of eastern Greene County and western Monroe County, and still requires additional environmental permits;
•    Environmental studies are not completed for Sections 5 and 6 nor have any sources of funding been identified for these sections, which span from Bloomington to Indianapolis;
•    The project remains highly controversial from Bloomington to Indianapolis.  The Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council has formally opposed the routing of I-69 along SR 37 through Perry Township, and this sentiment was reiterated by key Republican elected officials as recently as October 2012. 
•    The Pence Administration and the Federal Highway Administration are reviewing the Indiana Department of Transportation’s (INDOT) land acquisition practices for I-69, after a newspaper investigation revealed excessive prices paid for mitigation and right of way lands, and potential conflicts of interest related to land sold by an INDOT official. 

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