Friday, November 30, 2001
|Roger Borgenicht, Future Moves Coalition (801) 355-7085 firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Lynn De Freitas, Friends of Great Salt Lake (801) 582-1496 email@example.com|
LEGACY OPPONENTS CRY FOUL
UDOT is again playing fast and loose with facts and figures, this time to cover their mistakes in charging ahead on Legacy Parkway construction while serious and substantial questions remained about the Legacy approvals, says the coalition of local citizens and public interest groups that is challenging the Legacy Parkway. According to a recent newspaper article, UDOT claims that an Order from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which stopped Parkway construction until March pending resolution of the coalition’s legal claims, will cause harm by idling hundreds of workers and costing over $25 million dollars. That, in turn, has reportedly led some Utah politicians to consider legislation which would attempt to saddle the coalition with the costs of delay, or would even try to circumvent the Court’s ruling.
“We agree that any waste of the State’s resources should be a matter of serious concern,” said Roger Borgenicht, chair of the Future Moves Coalition. “However, blaming the local citizens and public interest groups challenging the Legacy Parkway is unfair. It was UDOT that had control of its contracts, not the coalition. We have warned UDOT for years that their actions would violate the law. Now that the Tenth Circuit seems to find merit with our assessment, it is hard to understand how UDOT could blame us because they refused to listen.”
UDOT awarded the contract on December 22, 2000, eighteen days before obtaining its permit from the Army corps of Engineers on January 9, 2001. UDOT apparently failed to include any provision in the contract to protect itself in the event of construction delays, even though it knew the project would be litigated. The project opponents filed their complaint on January 17, 2001, and agreed with UDOT and the federal agencies to litigate the case on the merits rather than litigate a preliminary injunction which can be costly and delay a decision on the merits. The district court’ August 11, 2001 decision upheld the federal approvals on the merits but was highly critical of the project, stating that UDOT’s transit projections and other analysis were “just plain wrong” and that “other alternatives could have reasonably been considered.” Within a few days of the district court’s decision, the project opponents informed UDOT of their plans to appeal and even issued press releases stating the same. Nevertheless, well before the Tenth Circuit’s decision on the motion for injunction pending appeal, IDOT chose to start the bulldozers.
“The Tenth Circuit recognized that UDOT acted rashly when it decided to enter into contracts before the project was approved,” added Lynn de Freitas, president of Friends of Great Salt Lake. “And then UDOT pushed ahead full bore with construction even after the court case was filed, and even after plaintiffs announced they were filing an appeal of the initial court ruling. The Court characterized UDOT’s harm as being self-inflicted, and we think that is a fair assessment. If anything, it looked to us like UDOT was rushing to get as much work done as possible before the Tenth Circuit had a chance to decide whether the project approvals were legal or not. Now, UDOT is trying to shed the blame for the consequences of those actions onto those who raised the important questions.”
“The claim that the delay will cost $25 million and idle hundreds of workers doesn’t seem credible,” said Borgenicht. “UDOT repeatedly indicated in court papers that it planned to suspend Parkway construction once winter arrived, and not start up again until weather conditions improved next spring. And as we all know, winter arrived in a big way just a few days after the Tenth Circuit’s ruling. And, if the Tenth Circuit rules in a timely fashion, as we expect it will, the case should be resolved in March or April, just about the time the construction season begins. The bottom line is that if UDOT wins the case, the Tenth Circuit’s decision to suspend construction will not have added significantly to the Parkway’s cost.”
On the other hand, if the Legacy opponents prevail, one possible result could be removal of some of the fill which UDOT has placed in the right-of-way. “Again, UDOT exaggerates by claiming that this could cost up to $200 million, almost half of the total Lecacy Parkway cost, now estimated to be $451 million. In fact, that claim is directly at odds with assertions made by UDOT in sworn statements in courts, stating that UDOT would probably just spread most of the fill out, cover it with the existing scraped off topsoil and revegetate it,” said de Freitas. “I’d like to see the basis for the $200 million figure. It would behoove the politicians to take a more reasoned look at those numbers and require UDOT to back them up. Instead of all this sniping and distortion of the facts, UDOT and the federal agencies should settle the case and spend the winter performing the impacts and alternatives analysis that both the district court and the court of appeals found wanting,” she said.
The coalition claims UDOT is greatly exaggerating the potential cost of delay in an attempt to villainize the local citizens and groups who only want to enforce the law and ensure the best long term outcome for our communities.