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Sand Creek Byway on Hold

July 11, 2008

By Bill Morlin, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

Jul. 11–Construction of the controversial Sand Creek Byway in Sandpoint has been temporarily blocked by an injunction issued by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The federal appeals court late Wednesday issued the injunction halting the project until it reviews a lower court ruling in a 2005 lawsuit filed by the North Idaho Community Action Network against the Idaho Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

The North Idaho citizens group, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, argues the proposed highway bypass following the eastern bank of Sand Creek in downtown Sandpoint would cause severe environmental damage and violate the National Environmental Policy Act.

NICAN suggests there are other routes to improve traffic flow on a U.S. highway that snakes through Sandpoint.

“We are pleased that the (appeals) court recognized the irrevocable environmental and economic harm that will ensue if the construction proceeds,” said NICAN board member Linda Tauber.

NICAN asked the federal appeals court in mid-June for an emergency motion blocking the state from proceeding with the project this month.

Liz Sedler, executive director of NICAN, said the state Department of Transportation “has a problem with complying with environmental protection laws.” She cited the department’s recent $325,000 fine from the Environmental Protection Agency for violating the federal Clean Water Act on a U.S. Highway 95 project near Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“The high-risk components of the Sand Creek project include placing massive highway walls on Sand Creek’s unstable saturated soils, dumping 84,000 cubic yards of fill into the creek, tearing up more than a mile of the creek’s shoreline and replacing it with riprap, and filling the main creek channel and attempting to dredge a new channel around the fill,” Sedler said.

“This is most certainly a recipe for environmental and financial disaster,” she said.

The Transportation Department said in a statement that it “remains committed to delivering the byway project.”

A hearing will be scheduled for the week of Aug. 25 in Seattle, the department said.

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