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Another I-69 Roadblock

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Photo: Vistavision, via Flickr Creative Commons
  • Photo: Vistavision, via Flickr Creative Commons

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court Monday claims Indiana's I-69 project is proceeding in violation of five federal laws.

Several concerned citizens' groups and landowners are plaintiffs in suit, including Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, Inc. and the I-69 Accountability Project, Inc.

"In response to the governor's recent statement that I-69 would be built to Bloomington 'whether they like it or not' — and despite the governor's earlier announcement that he was 'throwing out the rule book' in building I-69, INDOT and Governor Daniels must comply with federal law, whether they like it or not," said Mick Harrison, attorney for CARR and the other plaintiffs, in a news release upon the lawsuit's release.

The suit names as defendants U.S. Department Of Transportation Secretary

Ray Lahood; Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Michael B. Cline; Robert F. Tally, division administrator of the Indiana Division of the Federal Highway Administration; and Victor Mendez, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield confirmed the department received the complaint yesterday, noting that officials have not yet had time to review it in full and adding that it's INDOT's policy not to comment on pending litigation.

For general reference, he added, "The state and Federal Highway Administration have completed extensive environmental studies that meet or exceed Federal requirements. They are available for review at www.i69indyevn.org.

The lawsuit takes the current set of I-69 studies to task, suggested that they are based on outdated data and did not take proper account of the region's fragile and porous Karst terrain or the affected historic and archaeological sites.

In addition, the suit alleges: "INDOT and FHWA and their contractors have engaged in a pattern of entering onto private property without permission or knowledge of the landowners for archaeological investigations and removing artifacts from those private properties without consent from or the knowledge of the landowners, in violations of State and federal law."

The first third of the 63-page lawsuit introduces each of the plaintiffs and outlines their personal concerns with the project. This litany of complaints centers on the irreplaceable quality of life, place and environment the plaintiffs enjoy on properties affected by the project, as well as the environmental burden the highway's construction and operation would place on local land, water and air resources.

The suit then moves into specific counts, charging violation — and in some cases multiple violations — of the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and the Transportation Act.

"Plaintiffs have no adequate remedy at law," the suit states. "Unless this Court grants the requested relief, the defendants' actions will cause irreparable harm to the environment, to plaintiffs' and their members' interests, and to the public in violation of federal law and contrary to the public interest. No monetary damages or other legal remedy could adequately compensate plaintiffs, their members or the public for these harms."

Following Gov. Daniels' October 2009 announcement of accelerated design and construction plans for the I-69 corridor, INDOT's Deputy Commissioner of Major Programs Sam Sarvis offered project update in a news release: "We continue to set the stage for turning dirt on a very large scale this year [2010] and for the remaining 65 miles in Sections 1, 2 and 3 to be under construction in 2011. We will move forward to deliver on the Governor's aggressive goal set last fall to have all 67 miles of Sections 1, 2 and 3 open to traffic by the end of 2012."

INDOT confirmed that construction is now underway on Sections 1, 2 and 3. The department is overseeing at least six projects under contract in Gibson, Daviess and Greene counties.

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