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Opponents of West Bypass seek review by Army Corps of Engineers

The Fayette County government on March 8 submitted a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit request pertaining to streams and wetlands that will have to be crossed with the construction on Phase 2 and 3 of the West Fayetteville Bypass.

Members of the West Fayetteville Bypass Coalition continue to speak out against what they call the “Road to Nowhere.” They are waiting to see if the county’s permit request will be the fly in the ointment that will lead to the denial of the permit.

Previously collected 1-cent sales tax money is supposed to pay for all three phases of the bypass. But local funding does not preclude the issuance of a permit by federal authorities.

“By avoiding federal funding, keeping individual segments small and essentially refusing to answer questions publicly, the commissioners hoped to avoid permitting and a large public backlash. The backlash is happening. We are trying to shed as much light on the hidden agendas as possible,” said coalition member and Line Creek Association president Dennis Chase.

Chase noted what he believes will eventually become an East Fayetteville Bypass, currently abandoned due to a lack of state and federal funding, and a northern arc to connect the east and west bypasses. “It looks more and more like a small version of I-285 is what the county is really trying to do. It will be our contention, hopefully/probably in federal court, that the social, economic and environmental impact of such a circle road would be significant to the point where an Environmental Impact Statement would be required.”

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of dredged, excavated, or fill material in wetlands, streams, rivers and other U.S. waters. The Corps of Engineers is the federal agency authorized to issue Section 404 Permits for certain activities conducted in wetlands or other U.S. waters.

Chase said there are eight wetlands and stream areas in Phase 2, of which three will likely require bridges. There are also three wetlands areas in Phase 3 and two of those will be major crossings that will likely require bridges.

For their part, the West Fayetteville Bypass Coalition has amassed documentation in its opposition to the project. Central to that opposition is a Feb. 10, 2009 letter from coalition representative Sharri Greene asking that the Corps of Engineers deny the request from Fayette County to construct any additional phases of the bypass. The letter also notes 12 issues that the group believes should be evaluated prior to any Section 404 permit approval. Those include:

1. Fayette County does not have an adequate traffic study to justify the project.

2. Traffic will be routed onto roads that do not have capacity to handle the added loads.

3. The project has been broken into smaller segments (phases) which creates the impression that environmental and social impacts are small or non-existent.

4. In most areas where the road alignment is being considered, less damaging alternatives along existing roads have not been evaluated.

5. Numerous wetland areas, especially Whitewater Creek, will be destroyed.

6. Water quality problems in Whitewater Creek will be significant, making the re-establishment of freshwater mussels back into the original habitat impossible.

7. Extensive new roadbeds in floodplain areas will alter the flood levels on adjoining properties.

8. Areas of contiguous forested areas will be broken into small pieces which destroys habitat for many migratory birds, especially water fowl.

9. Individual properties will be significantly disrupted, in some areas separating homes from former neighborhoods.

10. Alignments that could have been more viable when originally considered have been eliminated by the issuance of permits for homes and other structures making property acquisition more costly.

11. Early proposals by the county to mitigate wetland losses recommended using designated greenspace already set aside for preservation through a county ordinance for conservation subdivisions.

12. Everything considered, there is an absolute need for a document that fulfills the requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

On the matter of NEPA requirements, an October 2008 letter from federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator J.I., Palmer, Jr. noted the planning stages for bypass Phase 2 and 3. It was a letter Chase and coalition member Steve Smithfield said they were pleased to see.

“In the transportation planning and development process, EPA reviews and comments on projects that require an environmental document prepared in compliance with NEPA in the early planning stages. In addition, EPA reviews and comments on Clean Water Act Section 404 permits, if necessary, for impacts of a particular protect to jurisdictional waters of the United States,” Palmer said. “... the issues that you raised in your letter will be part of our review at the appropriate time.”

From Smithfield’s perspective, the group’s approach is relatively simple.

“We are only asking for a thorough review by the Corps of Engineers and EPA because we don’t feel that the county is doing the (bypass) above board. We are also hoping for a public hearing, as there never has been an opportunity to get (bypass) concerns publicly addressed by the county, where all could participate and hear what was said,” Smithfield said.

“There was one meeting held in early 2008 where people were limited by the commissioners to discuss West Fayetteville Bypass safety issues only. Unfortunately, people who voted for the 2004 (1-cent sales tax) did not see any description of the West Fayetteville Bypass on that ballot. Later, the commissioners said that’s why people should attend the commissioners meetings. ...to know what’s going on,” Smithfield said.

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