Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Monday, April 11, 2011

SELC Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeeper Against Northern Beltline

Groups Sue ALDOT for Flawed Environmental Study on Northern Beltline

Press Release April 11, 2011

Gil Rogers, Senior Attorney, 404-521-9900
Cat McCue, Senior Communications Manager, 434-977-4090
Representing: Black Warrior Riverkeeper - Nelson Brooke, 205-458-0095

Montgomery, AL--In violation of federal law, the state Department of Transportation failed to fully account for the environmental impacts of the massive, high-priced Northern Beltline, conservation groups said in a lawsuit filed today in federal district court in Montgomery.

Click here to read the complaint (pdf)
Click here to read SELC's factsheet on the Northern Beltline (pdf)

The 52-mile beltline was recently pegged at $4.7 billion, a 38% increase from just a few months ago.  Much of that would come from federal coffers, but state taxpayers would be responsible for nearly $1 billion in matching funds. At about $90 million per mile, the beltline would be one of the most expensive interstate beltways in U.S. history.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper is suing the agency for violating the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a thorough evaluation of environmental impacts and alternatives in order to identify the most cost-effective and least damaging alternatives for projects funded with federal money.

"We have been waiting for years for ALDOT to do its homework before proceeding as required by federal law.  Unfortunately, this expensive and outdated highway project continues to move forward without a study of the most cost-effective way to bring economic growth to this part of the state," said Gil Rogers, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the river group in the lawsuit.

The state's $1 billion share of the beltline exceeds ALDOT's annual construction budget for the entire state, and would be almost five times as much as ALDOT's annual budget for road and bridge maintenance statewide.  The high price of the state's match means that many other necessary projects-such as safety improvements, bridge repair and road maintenance in Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville, and elsewhere, including Birmingham-would go unfunded to accommodate the beltline.

ALDOT has failed to undertake any comparison of the true economic development impacts of this project with other transportation improvement alternatives, nor does the $4.7 billion price tag take into account the additional cost to local governments of providing services like secondary roads and utilities to accommodate new growth in the region.   Further, the beltline would likely trigger a shift of economic activity away from existing Birmingham neighborhoods.

"ALDOT's inadequate study of this roadway's cumulative economic and environmental impacts led to decisions being made in a vacuum without proper planning or public input," said Nelson Brooke, spokesman for Black Warrior Riverkeeper. "Sprawling development along this highway will lead to increased pollution in local streams and rivers to the detriment of all who live downstream."

The Northern Beltline was first proposed a half century ago, when engineers routinely designed bypasses around metro areas to relieve traffic. Today's transportation experts increasingly recognize the built-in liabilities of bypasses-declining downtowns, sprawl, loss of open space, impaired water quality, and increased traffic and smog.

ALDOT completed an environmental study on the project in 1997 and chose the route for the Northern Beltline that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited as the most environmentally destructive. Because no work on the project occurred over the next three years, the analysis expired. ALDOT was legally required to re-evaluate its study and factor in changed conditions and correct deficiencies.

Instead, in 2006, ALDOT released an extremely limited study covering only 3.4 miles, which according to the lawsuit amounts to an illegal segmentation of the project under the National Environmental Policy Act.  Moreover, ALDOT has continued to ignore the environmental impacts of development spurred by the 3.4-mile segment and the beltline as a whole.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional conservation organization 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 40 legal 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.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper is a citizen-based nonprofit environmental advocacy organization whose mission is to protect and restore the Black Warrior River and its tributaries. A member of Waterkeeper Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper was the Alabama Environmental Council's 2007 Conservation Organization of the Year and the American Canoe Association's 2008 Green Paddle Award winner. Nelson Brooke, Riverkeeper, won the Alabama Rivers Alliance's 2010 River Hero Award.
Click here for more information about the Northern Beltline.

WGBH's Rick Karr interviews Phillip Weidmeyer on the Northern Beltline
PBS article on Phillip Weidmeyer and BARD's influence on the Northern Beltline
PBS interview Nelson Brooke
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  1. SELC and BWRK are quite ballsy these days.
    Big thumbs up!!!

  2. $90 million a mile is absolutely insanity.
    The state is broke, according to our 'betters' and they cannot justify this price tag on the best of days.
    All of this could have been avoided with one simple concept: Think first, develop second.

  3. Typical ALDOT foolish with millions.

  4. I am really liking this take their butts to court attitude left and right from the SELC.
    Please keep it up!

  5. Good for you SELC! The BARD machine doesn't care about right, it only cares about it's wrongheaded ideas that help no one but the Orwellian organization of Destruction, Inc.
    NPR pegged this NB idea for what it is-a zombie highway that is turning into a big nightmare.

  6. No one wants to admit the flawed thinking that got us into this mess of the Northern Beltline, the Super Sewer in JeffCo or the other boondoggle waiting to happen; making Highway 280 an elevated dinosaur.
    Using an outdated ES is really pushing the envelope and completely unacceptable.
    Who thought that would go unchallenged?
    But you know there may be something else that is serving as an undercurrent to all three of these really bad ideas that is more believable given the history of those involved: intentional deceit.

  7. You nailed it Lily.
    If BARD is involved in it it's always rooted in deceit.

  8. We need to get Nelson Brooke and the rest of the gang blue suits and red capes!

  9. Looks like it didn't take long for the big bad wolf to come charging out:
    Steve Bradley, spokesman for the BBA's Coalition for Regional Transportation, said the Riverkeeper suit is counterproductive.

    "The lawsuit is premature. We have every confidence that ALDOT has and will follow all environmental requirements. This is another example of a last-ditch attempt by no-growth organizations to deprive citizens of the jobs and economic growth the Northern Beltline will provide," Bradley said. "Further, the lawsuit is a waste of taxpayer dollars that will require ALDOT to spend money defending the lawsuit that would be better spent on improving our transportation system."

    Waste of taxpayer dollars huh Stevie? And you don't think $90 million a mile is a waste of those same dollars? How many of your BARD clients own land in the NB route? And how much will they make from this dirty deal?

    Got anything to say about that in the press so everyone can know about it?

    Seems like the last hair-brained idea of yours on the SWMA wound up putting JeffCo in trouble with the feds. Anything to say on that too maybe?

    No, I didn't think so.

  10. BARD is the worst influence in this state on everything from the environment to our political system, that is bought and paid for by their filthy funds. I still cannot believe Governor Bentley hired Bradley for his transition team.

  11. I can.
    He's a wolf in sheep's clothing.

  12. When someone cannot aruge an issue based on facts they resort to name calling. That is what the BBA, CRT and BARD have done continually on the NB issue. NIMBY's, NO GROWTHERS. The truth is ALDOT did not do due dilligence or follow regulations. Citizens have been saying this for 10 years now. The way Shelby attached this project to ADHS funding behind closed doors without a committee review should be looked at too. Not to mention something should be done for the people who ALDOT purchased land from before they were legally able to do so. So glad SELC and Black Warrior fight for the taxpaying citizen!

  13. Excellent comment!


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