Trafficway opponents legal brief ( .PDF )
The written record is now set in the legal battle over planned completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway, setting the stage for attorneys on both sides of the issue to speak directly to three appeals court judges.
At stake: Whether the $192 million project can continue as designed, with construction contractors to be hired in late 2013, or whether plans for the highway must face a new round of regulatory study and potential redirection.
Groups opposed to the project are asking the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the project, saying the Federal Highway Administration and Kansas Department of Transportation are violating federal law by pursuing a route through the Baker Wetlands.
“They argue that a path through the wetlands would disrupt the wetlands less than a path that would go around the wetlands,” said Bob Eye, an attorney representing six environmental groups and the Prairie Band Pottawatomie Nation. “That logic has always been contrary to both common sense and what we believe the law requires.”
The brief is the last legal document required before the case can be set for oral arguments, likely next year, before a three-member panel of appellate judges. The judges will determine whether to let stand a ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil, who last year affirmed the process used by the Federal Highway Administration in choosing a 32nd Street alignment for completing the trafficway.
The highway would connect with the existing trafficway at Iowa Street, at the southern edge of town, and run east, through the wetlands, to Kansas Highway 10 near Noria Road.
The Federal Highway Administration filed its final legal brief last month. The brief maintains, among other things, that the route through the wetlands — in conjunction with plans for removing and rerouting adjacent roads, plus expanding the wetlands, providing for the area’s maintenance and creating an educational center — would be better for the wetlands, overall.
In the brief, the highway administration noted that it already had determined that a route outside the wetlands, along a 42nd Street alignment, would not be prudent.
“Such an inquiry calls for judgment, for balancing, for the practical settlement of disputes on which reasonable people will disagree,” the highway administration said, in its brief. “FHWA’s conclusion ... is reasonable and should be upheld.”