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Wednesday, December 12, 2007
A citizens' group in Highland Village has filed suit in federal court seeking to block the extension of FM2499, a four-lane state highway that they say threatens the area's quality of life.
The highway, which could be built out to six lanes in the future, has been planned in the area for years, but that hasn't stopped the development of subdivisions, many of which find themselves just yards from the proposed route for the highway.
Residents have fought the route, however, saying it comes too close to homes and will destroy the area's rural charm.
Highland Village is a quiet neighbor-oriented community that will suffer from the amplified noise levels," stated a news release announcing the suit filed by residents calling themselves the Highland Village Parents Group. "The wildlife and people utilizing the federal park and wetlands will also suffer. The Defendants recognize the noise impacts, but completely fail to mitigate for these impacts by not including sound barriers in the design."
The suit claims that the environmental review process was short-circuited when state and federal officials agreed to permit a less-extensive review.
"This lawsuit was filed to challenge the arbitrary and capricious and illegal actions by a group of governmental agencies that had already made their minds up about what they were going to do and then simply did it, running roughshod over the procedural requirements" of federal law, the suit reads.
The suit was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Sherman.
A spokesman for the Texas Transportation Commission, which was among the agencies listed as defendants, could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.
Last month, Michael Morris, the transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, sent a letter to Highland Village residents opposed to the highway. Mr. Morris wrote that planning on the highway began 22 years ago, and that the property for the road was purchased by Denton County in the early 1990s. He said no homes were located within 2,000 feet of the property at that time.
Residents who oppose the road, however, have maintained that developers failed to adequately warn buyers that the road would come so close to homes that have subsequently been built.
The Highland Village Parents Group is the latest of several coalitions opposing the FM2499 extension, all insisting the road would cause pollution and harm the quality of life. None have been able to sway Highland Village city leaders from supporting the project.
In 2003 a group of Highland Village residents formed the Stop 2499 Coalition. That summer, about 1,000 people attended a public hearing on the road project, and hundreds more were turned away at the door. Most of those in attendance opposed the road expansion.
Stop 2499 fizzled out after the heated May 2004 election in which the coalition's candidates lost bids for seats on the Highland Village City Council.
Planning for the road has continued. Construction could start next year.
Highland Village resident Susie Venable said she almost gave up after the 2004 election. But then she decided to walk through and take pictures from the yards bordering the future roadway. The distances were too close to be safe, she said. "I went out there and I thought, 'Oh, my God, this is criminal,'." said Ms. Venable, one of the leaders of the Highland Village Parents Group.
Ms. Venable said several members of the group have children with respiratory problems. The roadway would put them at risk, she said.
The group is hoping for a court injunction that would force the government to do a more thorough environmental impact assessment. The group made that same request to several agencies and state officials without success before filing suit. "It's wrong," Ms. Venable said. "It's a mistake. You're not coming through our backyard. You're not going to destroy the lifestyle in this beautiful lakeside community."
Ms. Venable said no community should be treated the way Highland Village has been.
On Tuesday, Stop 2499 founder Paul LeBon called the road "a done deal."
"These people are beating a dead horse," said Mr. LeBon, who is not connected with the group. "Every 't' has been crossed and i' dotted, all the way up to the federal."
Mr. LeBon said the city's growing retail hub at the FM2499 and FM 407 intersection depends on the road's extension. That view puts him in the same camp as Highland Village Mayor Dianne Costa, who Mr. LeBon worked unsuccessfully to remove from office in 2004.
Ms. Costa said the city's air quality would improve when the road extends across the lake. The city expects traffic gridlock at the FM2499 and FM407 intersection to loosen with FM2499's extension.
"If it's delayed, it's not only going to negatively affect the development out there, it will also affect the congestion and air quality and everything else," Ms. Costa said. "The key goal in air quality is you keep things moving - not deadlock, standing still."
Read Document of lawsuit
Read letter from Mike Morris of RTC NCTCOG
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Parent Group sues Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation and TX Transportation Commission
The Highland Village Parents Group (HVPG) filed a lawsuit Monday, Dec. 10, to prevent the construction of FM 2499 Section 4 until it satisfies the standards required by an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Planned as a new construction four lane state highway to ultimately be build-out to six lanes, Section 4 of FM 2499 cuts.directly through residential sub-divisions and federal parklands and is planned to cross three tribitutaries which feed into Lake Lewisville (drinking water source of Dallas and Denton Counties). Only an Environmental Assessment (EA) has been prepared for the project, which does not fully consider the tremendous negative impacts on human health, and is incomplete in many other areas as well.
Faith Chatham, co-founder of DFW Regional Concerned citizens and editor of About Air and Water states: "TxDOT and the EPA have fast tracked environmental studies on this road at the request of a handful of local Denton county officials who ignored the concerns of residents. In 2003 when public hearings were held on this road, the fire marshal closed the building because more citizens showed up to protest than the hall could accommodate. When the meeting was rescheduled, about 1000 citizens registered to testify. Yet their outcry was not given serious weight by elected officials and transportation bureaucrats. I am especially concerned that the route selected is the most costly to construct and the route which crosses the most vulnerable water / wetlands. The section of Lake Lewisville which has registered the highest concentrations of toxic gasoline additives is where TxDOT proposes building three bridges to cross tribitaries of Lake Lewisville. Currently there is no technology which will remove this additive from drinking water and Denton and Dallas County residents get their drinking water from Lake Lewisville. I am thankful that the Highland Village Parents Group is continues to press for full environmental impact studies. This route is controversial yet TxDOT has refused to classify it controversial in order to fast track construction."
The suit alleges that the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation and the Texas Transportation Commission (Defendants) were deficient in giving environmental clearance to the project, and in their failure to conduct a more intensive environmental study based on the significant health, air and noise pollution and safety impacts to residents, and in using federal recreational parklands, wildlife management areas and wetlands. Additionally, the Defendants provided clearance while ignoring the opposition of thousands of citizens of Highland Village and surrounding communities (97% of written comments opposed the project at the public hearings).
Recent studies report the significant negative impacts caused by increased ambient air pollution from vehicular emissions to the health of people living in close proximity to a major road like this one. These impacts include increased incidents of lung and heart disease. Children, in particular, are at great risk of suffering substantial, irreversible, long-term lung damage by living and playing in such close proximity (see recent 13 year USC School of Medicine Study published in January 2007 describing permanent lung damage to children growing up within 1500 feet of a major road).
Increased noise levels will exceed federal standards in many areas. Highland Village is a quiet neighbor-oriented community that will suffer from the amplified noise levels. The wildlife and people utilizing the federal park and wetlands will also suffer. The Defendants recognize the noise impacts, but completely fail to mitigate for these impacts by not including sound barriers in the design.
Families living in homes, many within 25 feet of the Right-of-Way, and residents utilizing public parks and the community pool directly abutting the right-of-way, will be placed in a very dangerous condition. Some portions of the highway will be elevated up to 15 feet above grade, raising significant safety concerns about accidents causing vehicles to leave the roadway and hazardous material spills into homes, yards and parks. Recent tanker truck accidents on I-35 and in Everett, Mass. are examples of the serious threat to these families and homes.
The route of the highway will cross sensitive emergent wetlands, recreational parklands and wildlife management areas. The Defendants failure to thoroughly consider alternative routes is clearly in violation of federal law which specifies that if feasible alternate paths for a highway exist, they must be used (there were ten original alternatives).
The Defendants fail to follow their own guidelines by refusing to carry out an EIS for the highway project. According to the Defendants’ own published rules and policies, highways such as FM 2499, Section 4 typically require an EIS, especially when there is significant controversy and federal parklands are involved.
The unique quality of life present in Highland Village, the primary reason people move to Highland Village, will be devastated by the construction of FM 2499, Section 4.
Highland Village Parents Group can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phoning Roxane Thomas at 817-832-3319.
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