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Environmental groups lose in bid to stop I-69

Opponents of the current plan have unsuccessfully pushed an alternate route that would have used existing Interstate 70 and U.S. 41 for Indiana's portion of a "NAFTA Superhighway" linking Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press

7/26/2012

INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge has ruled against opponents of the $3 billion Interstate 69 extension between Indianapolis and Evansville who claimed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated federal law by giving Indiana permission to fill wetlands and reroute streams along part of the 142-mile roadway.

U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney wrote in an order issued Tuesday that the Corps' decision to issue a permit was not arbitrary or capricious. He granted summary judgment to the Corps and the Indiana Department of Transportation.

The Hoosier Environmental Council and Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads argued in their February 2011 lawsuit that the highway would cause "irreparable" environmental harm along a 26-mile section that would cross southern Indiana's Daviess and Greene counties.

The lawsuit claimed that the Army Corps violated the Clean Water Act by issuing a permit that would allow INDOT to dump about 215,000 cubic yards of fill material into wetlands and streams to build the highway between Washington and Crane.

The groups argued that the agency approved the permit even though other construction approaches would inflict less serious damage to the area's environment, and that the Army Corps did not consider the project's full environmental impact.

McKinney noted in his ruling that the permit was suspended in September 2010 because the public hearing procedure hadn't been followed, but it was reinstated later that month after the procedure was corrected.

Tim Maloney, the Indianapolis-based environmental council's senior policy director, had no immediate comment Wednesday. INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said that the department was reviewing the ruling.

A 65-mile section of the I-69 extension between Evansville and Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, southwest of Bloomington, is expected to open late this year. Environmental studies still have to be completed on some sections between Bloomington and Indianapolis, Wingfield said.

Opponents of the current plan have unsuccessfully pushed an alternate route that would have used existing Interstate 70 and U.S. 41 for Indiana's portion of a "NAFTA Superhighway" linking Canada and Mexico.

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