SELC in court to protect South’s rare longleaf pines from unneeded highway

Longleaf pines have long defined the environment of the South. A proposed highway in eastern North Carolina would cut through 100-year-old stands of longleaf in a national forest, despite having the option of less damaging alternatives. (© Beth Young)

Today SELC filed a federal lawsuit challenging the planned construction of an unneeded, costly highway. The planned Havelock Bypass would cut through rare, century-old longleaf-pine stands in eastern North Carolina’s Croatan National Forest. According to the filing on behalf of the Sierra Club, state and federal transportation officials failed to fully assess the multiple impacts of the proposed highway and available alternatives as required by law before approving the most environmentally destructive route for the U.S. 70 Havelock Bypass.

“The needless destruction of century old longleaf pines for an unnecessary and costly road is not only wrong, it’s illegal,” said Senior Attorney Geoff Gisler. “The Croatan was established decades ago to protect a landscape that is central to North Carolina’s history and provides irreplaceable habitat to the rare plants and animals that live in the forest.”

The longleaf pine stands that would be destroyed for the four-lane, divided highway are reminders of the longleaf savanna that once covered the Southeastern coastal plain, defining the natural and cultural histories of America’s South. They also provide a home to a number of threatened and endangered plants and animals unique to the South.

At a cost to taxpayers of $179 million, the destructive 10.3-mile bypass would save travelers only 1 to 8 minutes, while diverting customers from local businesses. SELC and the Sierra Club have long advocated for less expensive, less destructive alternatives to the bypass such as upgrades to the existing U.S. 70. The transportation agencies rejected these solutions based on old projections of traffic increases that have failed to materialize.

As set out in documents filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina today, the conservation groups also allege that the transportation agencies have selected the most damaging route available for the proposed bypass. The chosen path would damage more wetlands, streams, and wildlife habitat than other alternatives, in violation of several state and federal laws.


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