Yadkin Riverkeeper challenges water quality permit for the $850 million Bypass
Charlotte N.C. – The Southern Environmental Law Center today filed a lawsuit in the Office of Administrative hearings on behalf of the Yadkin Riverkeeper, that challenges a state water quality permit for the $850 million Monroe Bypass toll highway because the N.C. Division of Water Resources violated the Clean Water Act when it failed to perform a proper review of less destructive alternatives to the expensive proposed toll highway. In January, over 100 concerned local citizens attended a hearing to protest the issuance of the state permit.
“This unnecessary, expensive toll road will degrade waters of the Yadkin River Basin that our members swim, fish and boat on,” said Will Scott, the Yadkin Riverkeeper. “Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize this sprawl-inducing project when there are low-impact upgrades available for existing roads.”
Local opposition to the bypass, long simmering in Union County, recently took its concerns to the North Carolina General Assembly. Last month a group of current and former elected officials joined local farmers and land owners to travel to Raleigh and urge legislators to look at alternative transportation solutions for the U.S. 74 corridor. These Union County residents want solutions that would actually improve travel for local drivers in Union County — rather than allowing those able to pay a toll to entirely bypass the county and its businesses. Five Union County municipalities have joined the call and passed resolutions urging alternative solutions.
Working with expert engineers, transportation planners and the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s own data, SELC and the Riverkeeper identified a number of specific lower-cost improvements that would have a swift and direct impact on improving congestion on the existing highway and promoting driver safety. The Yadkin Riverkeeper seeks to force a proper review of such common-sense solutions that would not only be beneficial to local drivers but also would safeguard the North Carolina’s scarce transportation resources.
“The North Carolina General Assembly has a responsibility to the state’s taxpayers to review whether the $850 million toll road is still a fiscally sound investment,” said Kym Hunter, an attorney with SELC. “The legislature recently enacted legislation to raise the gas tax and is currently considering other bills to raise fees and taxes to fund transportation spending. Before seeking more money from North Carolina taxpayers, NCDOT should first look at its own spending habits.”
While NCDOT’s own data show that building the Monroe Bypass will result in no improvement to existing levels of local traffic congestion, the transportation agency remains intent on constructing the boondoggle project. Even those able to afford the toll and use the Bypass are forecast to save just 8-12 minutes, making the project a $100 million investment for every minute of time saved.
The Yadkin Riverkeeper’s challenge to the Water Quality permit comes on the heels of separate challenge made by conservation groups to NCDOT’s environmental disclosure document. In that challenge the conservation groups have alleged that NCDOT was not forthright with the public in its review of the Monroe Bypass. The case is currently pending in federal court. The same court recently invalidated NCDOT’s environmental review for a similar toll highway, the Garden Parkway.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of almost 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.
Yadkin Riverkeeper is a regional nonprofit that uses advocacy, education and outreach to protect fishable, swimmable, drinkable water. Founded in 2008, the Yadkin Riverkeeper partners with local, state and national groups to protect North Carolina’s second largest river basin, which is the drinking source for over 750,000 North Carolinians.