cross-posted from Wild Idaho Rising Tide
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 30, 2022
Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition
Army Corps of Engineers Halts Highway 95 Construction near Moscow
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended its authorization of the U.S. Highway 95 Thorn Creek Road to Moscow rerouting project, in a letter sent to the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) dated August 29, 2022. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires an Army Corps permit for the realignment, because it would destroy wetlands along a six-mile stretch of Highway 95 proposed for expansion to four lanes, south of Moscow.
On March 9, 2021, the Corps granted ITD a Nationwide Permit 14 (NWP 14), a general, national permit for wetland impacts under the Clean Water Act, which applies to transportation projects that would destroy no more than a half-acre of wetlands at any one site. The Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition (PRDC) hired two experienced wetland scientists to determine the accuracy of the wetland acreage that would be impacted by the easternmost E-2 alignment of U.S. 95 preferred by ITD. PRDC’s contracted scientists determined that ITD omitted wetlands that would be destroyed at Site 1 on the southern end of the E-2 route. Considering those wetlands, the E-2 alignment exceeds the half-acre limit of maximum wetland destruction. As a result, the overall project does not qualify for a Nationwide Permit 14.
The Corps has now suspended all ITD project construction for 60 days or longer, at Site 1 and all 13 wetland crossings along the E-2 alignment. In the attached letter to ITD, Kelly Urbanek, Regulatory Division Chief of the Army Corps in Boise, wrote, “It is unclear what type of Department of Army authorization will be required to construct ITD’s proposed (or any revised) highway improvement plan at Site 1. For example, if expected losses to aquatic resources at Site 1 exceed 0.5 acre and cannot be authorized under NWP 14, an individual permit may be required. …Effective immediately, you must stop all activities… This suspension will remain in effect until the authorization is reinstated, modified, or revoked.”
In response, PRDC board member David Hall said, “This decision by the Army Corps should encourage ITD and the Corps to compare alignments and choose the least environmentally damaging alternative for this new highway section. Public comments overwhelmingly support the central C-3 route and the stricter standards and public involvement of an individual, rather than a nationwide, Clean Water Act permit.”
Helen Yost of regional, climate activist collective Wild Idaho Rising Tide added, “Considering E-2’s higher elevation weather conditions, wildlife crossings, larger wetlands, and proximity to rare, native, Palouse Prairie remnants, the lower C-3 alignment is safer for drivers and healthier for the environment than E-2, and best utilizes current U.S. 95 infrastructure, as recommended by federal regulations.”
Spokesperson for the Palouse Group of the Sierra Club, Al Poplawsky, stated, “ITD knew they were building a highway on a house of cards. Environmental laws benefit all living things, including people, and not following them is ultimately damaging and counterproductive.”
Zachary Griefen of Bricklin and Newman, legal counsel for PRDC, noted that, “We are pleased that the Army Corps has acknowledged, as PRDC has argued all along, that ITD misrepresented the extent to which the proposed route will destroy wetlands. The Corps’ suspension of authorization for the project is a good first step toward reconsideration of this ill-conceived highway project.”
The Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition of Moscow, Idaho, is a non-profit, public interest organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of Paradise Ridge and the native biodiversity of the Palouse region that surrounds Paradise Ridge. With a mission to ensure and enhance the public safety, environmental integrity, and natural aesthetics of Paradise Ridge and its environs, the coalition includes the Palouse Broadband of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, the Palouse Group of the Sierra Club, Wild Idaho Rising Tide, and individual members.