Feds seek to void parkway environmental assessment

9-20-2002

by Joel Davis of The Daily Times Staff

The Federal Highway Administration wants to withdraw a controversial environmental assessment of the proposed Pellissippi Parkway extension.

Attorneys for the FHWA filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Nashville on Sept. 5 asking Judge Todd Campbell to allow the agency to withdraw the assessment for review.

Assistant Division Administrator Gary Corino said he could not comment on the particulars of the motion but confirmed the agency is also asking the court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the assessment. ``The federal government has filed a motion asking the court that they be allowed to withdraw the finding of no significant impact, go back to drawing board and start over again,'' said Joe McCaleb, attorney for the Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension group.

CAPPE filed a lawsuit against the project on June 7. The group is approaching news of the withdrawal cautiously, CAPPE president Susan Keller said. ``It's kind of a wait-and-see thing for all of us,'' she said. 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. 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.

TDOT is supporting the federal motion, a spokesperson said.

In response to the lawsuit, Campbell issued a preliminary injunction halting work on the extension July 17.

The judge is allowing TDOT to pay relocation fees to three families who own mobile homes in the path of the extension and had entered into contracts before the date of the injunction. ``We are very pleased,'' Keller said. ``I'm glad these three parties are going to get the relief they need so they can go on with their plans. ``Some of them had already gone ahead and done third-party contracting and signing of legal papers. We felt like they really needed to go ahead.'' McCaleb has not yet filed a response to the motion to dismiss.

If the motion is denied, the matter will not come to trial very soon. ``This case is a long way from being set for a final hearing,'' McCaleb said. ``I don't anticipate the final hearing before the beginning of the new year.''

Previously, the FHWA cut off federal aid for the project in response to the lawsuit. According to Corino, the suspension of federal funding for the project remains in place.

The final leg of the extension project would take approximately 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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All materials Copyright 2002 Horvitz Newspapers.