U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Backpedals on Monroe Bypass; Questions Still Remain
On August 23, when news became public that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had informed the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that it was reconsidering its approval of the proposed Monroe Bypass, the agency sent another letter to the FHWA appearing to back away from that position but still expressing serioius concerns about the project.
FWS Asheville Field Office supervisor Brian Cole wrote that his agency “… did not intend to imply that we have taken any action or plan to take any action based on our limited review of the [legal] briefs.”
The tone of the letter is in sharp contrast to language in Cole’s letter dated August 18 to the FHWA in which he described at some length the discrepancies in the environmental analysis for the project, the attempts FWS made to clarify the problem, the assurances it received from FHWA and the Turnpike Authority that there was no problem, and the documentation produced as a result of a lawsuit filed by conservation groups that the problem existed and the FHWA and Turnpike Authority knew about it. Cole concluded: “Our concurrence with your ‘Not Likely To Adversely Affect’ determination was based on the analysis you provided. … Upon submission of a new analysis, we will review it and your determination of effect and provide our conclusion.”
In the August 23 letter, Cole makes it clear that FWS still needs clarification about the environmental analysis. Court documents show the FWHA and N.C. Turnpike Authority assumed the highway already existed when they assessed the impacts of a “no-build” option. The assumption enabled the agencies to assert virtually identical environmental impacts for two drastically different scenarios: building the multi-lane, 20-mile highway with nine interchanges through the Yadkin River watershed, and not building it.
Following is a statement from Chandra Taylor, SELC Senior Attorney:
“We hope science and common sense will trump political pressure as the Fish and Wildlife Service continues its attempt to get to the truth of this matter.”
SELC is representing North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Yadkin Riverkeeper and Clear Air Carolina in a lawsuit against the FHWA and N.C. Turnpike Authority over the proposed highway.