The Federal Highway Administration doesn't want to produce records concerning the environmental assessment of the Pellissippi Parkway extension project.
Lawyers for the FHWA filed a motion for a protective order Oct. 17 in U.S. District Court in Nashville. The motion seeks to shield the agency from having to produce the administrative record for the project for use in a lawsuit filed by the Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension group.
CAPPE Attorney Joe McCaleb filed a motion Oct. 8 to compel the FHWA to produce the record. ``Basically, the defense to a motion to compel is a motion for a protective order,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Roden, who is representing the FHWA. ``If there is something they want you to file or submit and you believe you have a valid reason not to, the next move is a motion for protective order.''
Roden said that the FHWA's decision to withdraw the finding of no significant impact for the project is the basis for the request. ``Our position is there is no administrative record right now. We took back the finding of no significant impact. ``There is no record of the decision-making process because no decision has been made. It's still in the works.''
The administrative record would include any agreements that have been made by the federal government and state of Tennessee regarding the highway. Access to records CAPPE Board Member Nina Gregg said the government is trying to deny taxpayers access to public records. ``It's interesting that a federal agency and a state agency would seek to deny citizens access to public records,'' she said. ``It appears there is something they don't want us to see.''
A Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesperson could not comment on whether the agency supported the federal government's motion. ``We have not seen the motions, so I can't really comment specifically,'' said Deborah Fehr of the TDOT Public Affairs Office.
The FHWA also is asking Campbell to reconsider a motion for voluntary remand and to dismiss the lawsuit. ``It looks to us like they are trying anything they can think of in order not to comply with the law and the judges rulings,'' Gregg said.
U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell issued an order Oct. 1 denying a motion for voluntary remand. Attorneys for the FHWA had asked Campbell to allow the agency to withdraw a controversial environmental assessment of the project for review.
The environmental assessment is at the heart of the lawsuit, which the CAPPE filed June 7. CAPPE contends the environmental assessment is inadequate and fails to take into consideration such factors as air- and water-quality impacts, traffic congestion and the potential for urban sprawl. CAPPE lawsuit The CAPPE lawsuit named Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner J. Bruce Saltsman Sr. as a defendant as well as U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and officials of the Federal Highway Administration. In response to the lawsuit, Campbell issued a preliminary injunction halting work on the extension July 17. Previously, the FHWA cut off federal aid for the project in response to the lawsuit. The suspension of federal funding for the project remains in place. The final leg of the extension project would take about 39 tracts of land, directly affecting 42 residents and one business. TDOT has chosen a 4.5-mile route for the proposed extension. The route follows a mostly southerly direction from where the parkway currently ends at Cusick Road to East Lamar Alexander Parkway close to Morning Star Baptist Church, 3412 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway.
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