Today SELC and the Yadkin Riverkeeper announced a million-dollar settlement with the North Carolina Departments of Transportation and Environmental Quality to conserve land and protect water quality in areas harmed by the Monroe Bypass, a nearly billion-dollar, 20-mile toll highway that will cut through rural Union County outside of Charlotte.
Under the settlement, NCDOT agreed to deposit $1 million with the Catawba Lands Conservancy, which will use the money to purchase land and/or conservation easements in Union County to protect the area’s beautiful natural spaces in perpetuity.
The settlement arose after the Riverkeeper, who focuses on water quality, challenged the Clean Water Act permit for the bypass in 2015.
For nearly a decade, SELC, alongside the Yadkin Riverkeeper, Clean Air Carolina, and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, as well as local community groups, fought the advent of the destructive Monroe Bypass. The project will cost taxpayers over one billion dollars, destroy family-owned farmland, and worsen suburban sprawl in the region. In studying and approving the bypass, NCDOT ignored a decade of changing population trends and traffic patterns that made less environmentally harmful options, like upgrading existing roads, a more cost-effective and practical solution than the costly toll road.
In 2012, the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals halted the project, ruling that NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration held back critical information from the public about the bypass and ordering the agencies to study the project’s impacts again. Earlier this year, however, the court allowed the project to proceed, triggering the release of the settlement funds in the related permit challenge.
Although the bypass is ultimately moving forward, the settlement announced today will help protect special corners of Union County from the sprawling development that routinely follows new mega-highway.