By Geoff Gisler, Southern Environmental Law Center
The Southern Environmental Law Center today filed a federal lawsuit challenging the planned construction of an unneeded, costly highway. The planned Havelock Bypass would cut through rare, century-old longleaf pine stands in eastern North Carolina’s Croatan National Forest.
According to the filing on behalf of the Sierra Club in the Eastern District of North Carolina in US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, state and federal transportation officials failed to fully assess the multiple impacts of the proposed highway and available alternatives as required by law before approving the most environmentally destructive route for the US 70 Havelock Bypass.
Said Geoff Gisler, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center:
“The needless destruction of century old longleaf pines for an unnecessary and costly road is not only wrong, it’s illegal. The Croatan was established decades ago to protect a landscape that is central to North Carolina’s history and provides irreplaceable habitat to the rare plants and animals that depend on the forest.”
The longleaf pine stands that would be destroyed for the four-lane, divided highway are reminders of the longleaf savanna that once covered the Southeastern coastal plain, defining the natural and cultural histories of America’s South. They also provide a home to a number of threatened and endangered plants and animals unique to the South.
“The Havelock Bypass is an unnecessary project that would damage and destroy ecologically important lands within the Croatan National Forest,” said Michael Murdoch, chair of the Croatan Group of the Sierra Club’s North Carolina Chapter. “Given the availability of better alternatives, such as far less costly and far less destructive upgrades to the existing road, the bypass must not be built.”
At a cost to taxpayers of $179 million, the destructive 10.3-mile bypass would save travelers only 1 to 8 minutes, while bypassing local businesses dependent on through traffic. The Southern Environmental Law Center and the Sierra Club have long advocated for less expensive, less destructive alternatives to the bypass such as upgrades to the existing US 70. The transportation agencies rejected these solutions based on old projections of traffic increases that have failed to materialize.
As set out in documents filed with the court today, the conservation groups also allege that the transportation agencies have selected the most damaging route available for the proposed bypass. The chosen path would damage more wetlands, streams, and wildlife habitat than other alternatives in violation of several state and federal laws.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville VA, Chapel Hill NC, Atlanta GA, Charleston SC, Washington DC, Birmingham AL, Nashville TN, Asheville NC, and Richmond VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. More information at www.SouthernEnvironment.org.
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide and over 15,000 members in North Carolina. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. See more at nc.sierraclub.org.