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Sierra Club files suit against Grand Parkway

Alleges inadequate assessments

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UPDATE (03/19/09, 8:58 am): Brandt Mannchen, air quality chair of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter, explains the lawsuit in an opinion letter to the Katy Times.

The Sierra Club filed suit yesterday against the Federal Highway Administration in an effort to prevent construction of Segment E of the Grand Parkway. The lawsuit, filed in federal district court, alleges that the agency failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of the project. Brandt Mannchen, air quality chair of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter, informed the Harris County commissioners of the lawsuit at the Commissioners Court meeting yesterday. The Sierra Club press release is below, as well as the 16-page legal complaint.

Sierra Club legal complaint (pdf, 148 kb)

Environment News Service: “Texas Sierra Club sues feds to safeguard Katy Prairie”
Houston Press: “Sierra Club sues over Grand Parkway”
KPRC, Channel 2: “Lawsuit filed over Grand Parkway”

Sierra Club files Environmental Lawsuit on Grand Parkway

(Austin)—The Sierra Club late Monday filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Houston against the Federal Highway Administration due to the failure of that federal agency to do an adequate assessment of the environmental impacts of the proposed Grand Parkway Segment E in western Harris County.

“The Grand Parkway is the poster child of bad transportation projects – an environmentally destructive project that’s not needed, not ready, and not cost-effective,” noted Brandt Mannchen, Air Quality Chair for the state chapter and Houston group of the Sierra Club. “In the rush to push Segment E of the Grand Parkway for the benefit of real estate developers, the Federal Highway Administration conducted a weak environmental review that ignores the project’s harm to the Katy Prairie, its potential impact on Houston air quality, and better transportation alternatives.”

In remarks to the Harris County Commissioners Court today informing them of the lawsuit Mannchen noted:
“The Sierra Club, over the past 25 years, has worked to protect the Katy Prairie and implement transportation alternatives to the proposed Grand Parkway, Segment E.  We are now at a point where we did not want to be. Filing a lawsuit is a serious undertaking which requires money, time, and other resources.  It is a strategy of last resort, not first resort.  It is because the Sierra Club feels so strongly about protection of the Katy Prairie and the harmful effects the proposed Grand Parkway Segment E will have on the Katy Prairie, that we have filed this lawsuit.”

The Katy Prairie is a home for hundreds of thousands of geese, ducks, herons, egrets, songbirds, and other wildlife.  The Sierra Club notes that it is also a giant sponge that soaks up flood waters and detains and keeps those waters from flooding down Buffalo Bayou causing havoc downstream. According to the Sierra Club, the proposed Grand Parkway project itself will pave over about 700 acres of the Katy Prairie. The environmental group points out that by facilitating the Bridgelands real estate development in its efforts to construct subdivisions in the area, the Grand Parkway indirectly will destroy another 12,000 acres of the Katy Prairie.

Last week the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) included the Grand Parkway Segment E in a list of projects to be funded in part ($181 million) out of federal economic stimulus funds. That decision has generated considerable controversy, in part because the project has not secured all the necessary permits to proceed – including a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers environmental permit. Moreover, some groups question the use of federal stimulus money to construct a toll road, which is what the Grand Parkway is slated to be.

The Sierra Club says there are proven transportation alternatives to the proposed Grand Parkway Segment E that will reduce traffic congestion where people live, work, and play.

Alternatives are:
commuter rail along U.S. 290,
widening of U.S. 290,
Hempstead Highway toll road,
widening of Katy-Hockley Road,
and connection of Fry and Mason Roads to U.S. 290.

“We need to spend precious taxpayer and toll payer dollars where people live and traffic congestion exists now,” said Mannchen, “not use our money to subsidize further traffic-generating growth that clogs our roads and destroys our area’s natural heritage.”

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