SELC had previously asked Department of Water Quality to issue a formal public notice regarding the 401certification application, as no public notice had previously been given.
After much back and forth, DWQ did decide yesterday to issue a formal public notice thus allowing comments on the Turnpike Authority's 404 permit application until November 29th. For further details see the entire comments document.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), in conjunction with Yadkin Riverkeeper, NC Wildlife Federation, NC Sierra Club and Clean Air Carolina, has filed suit over the proposed Monroe Bypass. The suit challenges that the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) failed to adequately evaluate impacts and alternatives for the Charlotte-area project. The Monroe Bypass is a proposed 22-mile-long expressway that would parallel the U.S. 74 corridor Southeast of Charlotte, providing a bypass for the Monroe area connecting to the recently-constructed I-485 beltway around Charlotte.
SELC has been involved in permitting and related issues surrounding the construction of the Monroe Connector/Bypass near Charlotte for seven years. Concerns about the project include the overall sprawl-inducing effects, impacts to impaired and sensitive watersheds including streams that are home to an endangered mussel species, and the promotion of additional vehicle travel by encouraging lengthy commutes in an ozone nonattainment area.
The EIS for the Monroe project was completed last summer and SELC submitted extensive comments on its direct and indirect impacts, as well as the need to look at an alternative that would address congestion on the existing highway corridor by improving traffic flow and connectivity on the existing local road network, among other strategies.
Items overlooked in the initial EIS included; an error that prevented a valid comparison of the environmental effects of the build versus no build alternatives, which prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to drop its longstanding concerns about impacts to endangered mussels in the Goose Creek watershed; an overstatement of the traffic congestion on US Highway 74 if the project did not go through; and a distortion in the socio-economic forecasts that indicated a need for the road. SELC raised these issues on the final EIS but the Record of Decision did not directly address them.
While the location of the Monroe Connector/Bypass is not a pristine setting, it is the front burner example in North Carolina of a major sprawl-inducing highway project in one of our larger metro areas that will have an impact on water quality, air quality as well as quality of life in the Yadkin River basin. Air quality, water quality and land development impacts are the three major areas of environmental concern. These concerns are magnified for toll road proposals because they are dependent on a revenue stream that is premised on rapid, sprawling growth patterns and the attendant increased motor vehicle travel. In addition, the flaws in the EIS have and will continue to infect other environmental reviews for the project, including under the Endangered Species Act and Sections 404 and 401 of the Clean Water Act.