Monroe Bypass a saga of government non-disclosure

From June Blotnick, Clean Air Carolina; Dean Naujoks, Yadkin Riverkeeper; and Tim Gestwicki, North Carolina Wildlife Federation:

Honesty is important. Democracy is crucial. Our three citizen groups – Clean Air Carolina, the Yadkin Riverkeeper and North Carolina Wildlife Federation – represent a wide variety of interests: Republicans, Democrats, hunters, kayakers, doctors, moms and school children. As diverse as our values can be, we all agree on one simple fact: Communities deserve to be provided with honest information so they can play a meaningful role in major decisions that will affect them.

That straightforward belief is why we again find it necessary to challenge the dishonest review of the Monroe Bypass in court. Our challenge is based on President Nixon’s 1970 bedrock environmental law, which says that when government wants to take an action that will significantly impact the environment, it must disclose the impacts of that action so decision-making can be driven by an informed democratic process.

We first challenged the bypass in 2010 after it became clear that NCDOT was dishonest in its review of the highway. In response, the government agency came up with a number of increasingly absurd excuses: First, the government flatly denied that it had misled the public. Then the government admitted its statements were misleading, but declared them irrelevant. Finally, the government argued that because it had now admitted its false statements, the public was sufficiently informed.

The judges on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals were not impressed. Stressing the important role that information plays in the democratic process, they sent the government back to make honest disclosure.

Since then we have carefully monitored the bypass. We have worked with mayors, attended community groups and government meetings, all the while listening to what Union County residents want.

What we’ve heard is quite simple: Folks want better, safer roads to travel on – to work, to school, to soccer practice. Unfortunately, if the bypass is built, relief from congestion will not materialize. NCDOT’s data show that current levels of congestion are not expected to improve even if $850 million is spent on the new toll road.

To really help drivers in Union County, NCDOT must invest in U.S. 74 itself. Experts have identified specific upgrades to relieve existing congestion. Unfortunately, because these solutions don’t generate toll revenue, NCDOT is not interested.

NCDOT’s response: revert back to its campaign of misinformation – publicly tout misleading propaganda on the one hand, while its own data shows the reverse.

Honesty matters, and democracy matters. We hope by filing this lawsuit residents of Union County will finally have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in determining the future of their communities based on forthright, full disclosure.