By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The

Charlottesville City Council

will not stand in the way of construction of the

Meadow Creek Parkway

through

McIntire Park

, despite pleas from opponents who want a federal judge to first rule on the legality of funding for the roadway’s interchange with the U.S. 250 Bypass.

“Bulldozers could be poised at Melbourne Road and enter the city [to] start a segment of the road that could be declared illegal and [the park would be] destroyed before we can actually hear our case,” said

Rich Collins

, a member of the

Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park

.

Collins and other members of the coalition claim the Federal Highway Administration violated federal law when it granted a “finding of no significant impact” as part of the environmental reviews for the interchange, which is funded in part by a $27 million federal earmark.

The coalition filed a lawsuit in February alleging the FHWA illegally segmented the parkway’s city portion, Albemarle County portion and the interchange in order to reduce the scope of an environmental assessment.

Last week, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued a permit on behalf of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow the Virginia Department of Transportation to reroute a stream, the last permit officials said was needed before construction could begin.

“There are no other hurdles that are out there for that project at this point,” said

Jim Tolbert

, the city’s

director of neighborhood development services

.

Tolbert said work on the city’s portion of the parkway is expected to begin two weeks after the notice to proceed has been given. That occurred on Friday, according to VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter.

“It’s my understanding that they will start on the Melbourne [Road] side of the project but I expect you will see a lot of earth-moving and tree removal immediately,” Tolbert said.

Mayor

Dave Norris

, an opponent of the road, brought the matter before city councilors on Monday to ask if they would continue giving opponents of the road time to have their argument heard in court.

“There was a sense a number of months ago that we were reluctant to green-light major construction in the park … before we had a sense of whether the court was going to allow the interchange funding to move forward,” Norris said.

The FHWA issued its finding in early October, but the coalition did not file its lawsuit until late February.

“We had to wait for a final federal action before we could actually file a suit,” Collins said. “We thought the federal judge would hear the case before [VDOT] would have a permit.”

Collins said it took four months to file the suit because the coalition’s attorney was busy and any delay was unintentional.

A majority of councilors said they wanted construction to proceed.

Councilor

Kristin Szakos

said she had supported giving the coalition a chance to file a lawsuit allowing a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction if warranted.

“[If a judge] feels there is a likelihood of prevailing, [that] would stop the process,” Szakos said. “I don’t think we need council to do that for the judge.”

“We’ve been talking about this parkway for some time,” said Councilor

Satyendra Huja

. “We have gone through all the processes to see that we get construction of this project … I see no reason to stop it now because someone was too late to file an injunction.”

After the coalition filed its suit, the FHWA responded within 60 days. That allowed Judge Norman K. Moon to file a scheduling order in May, City Attorney

Craig Brown

said. Brown said an assistant U.S. attorney involved with the case told him to expect a ruling before the end of the year.

“It doesn’t establish a definitive date to my knowledge as to when a ruling would come,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, coalition member

Peter Kleeman

told Charlottesville Tomorrow that his group’s attorney is preparing to file a preliminary injunction to stop the road, claiming the latest DEQ permit was issued illegally.


County portion re-opening to some

In other news, Huja announced that VDOT has agreed to open up the county’s portion of the parkway to cyclists and pedestrians by the end of July. Another agreement between the city, county and VDOT prevents the road from opening to vehicular traffic until the interchange and both road sections are all completed.

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