Agency may appeal Court Circ Highway ruling

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(Host) The state transportation agency says it may appeal a 2004 court ruling that blocked the Circumferential Highway in Chittenden County.

Environmentalists say the state is wasting its time on the legal challenge, and would be better off finding alternatives to the road project.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Late on Friday, the state filed a notice of appeal – a legal maneuver that preserves the right to challenge the 2004 court order.

In that ruling, U.S. Judge William Sessions said that the state and federal government failed to conduct a detailed environmental review as the law required.

In July, Sessions reaffirmed his decision in a strongly worded order. The state had 60 days to decide what to do next.

(Dill) “So we’re filing this paperwork today to protect our right to appeal.”

(Dillon) Deputy Transportation Secretary David Dill says the legal filing will clear the way for the Solicitor General of the U.S. to decide whether to challenge the Sessions order.

Dill says the state is still going ahead with an environmental impact statement called an EIS, that looks at the transportation needs and various alternatives, including the new road.

(Dill) “This appeal has nothing to do with the current EIS effort. It’s completely independent. We’re proceeding with the EIS.”

(Dillon) Brian Dunkiel is a Burlington lawyer representing the Smart Growth Collaborative, which opposes the project. He says the state should not waste time and money litigating the case.

(Dunkiel) “Certainly this is a legally available option to them. Is it advisable or is it in the best interest of finding solutions to Chittenden County’s transportation problems? I would disagree. The state is spending millions of dollars on an environmental impact statement that is required after the court’s decision. That’s where solutions are going to be found, not in continued, ongoing, expensive litigation.”

(Dillon) The Circumferential Highway is a 16 mile, $180 million dollar road designed to link the suburbs around Burlington. Environmentalists say it could lead to more suburban sprawl. The state argues it will ease transportation bottlenecks in the region.

Sandra Levine a lawyer for the Conservation Law Foundation questions the state’s commitment to the new environmental review process.

(Levine) “The judge found that the environmental review that they did was very faulty. The state went back and they’re redoing that environmental review. The fact that they are appealing now shows that they don’t have much faith in the review that they’re doing.”

(Dillon) But Dill of the Transportation Agency says the appeal is aimed much more at future projects.

(Dill) “There were some elements of the judge’s decisions that may affect any future EIS’s with other projects. And we want to make sure we’re on solid ground regarding the criteria that’s going to be used in making these decisions.”

(Dillon) And in a written statement, State Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville says the notice of appeal “preserves all options available to the state.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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