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Environmentalists challenge permit for Monroe Bypass

Two environmental groups are challenging a permit issued by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the proposed $800 million Monroe Connector-Bypass east of Charlotte.

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation and the Yadkin Riverkeeper said the state failed to properly assess the water-quality impacts from building a 20-mile highway through the Yadkin River watershed, according to a press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing the two groups in their challenge of the “401″ permit issued earlier this year by DENR.

NCWF and the riverkeeper “filed papers” with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings to challenge the permit, SELC said.

Under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act, DENR is required to evaluate the full scope of the project to ensure that stream and wetland impacts are avoided or minimized and that stormwater is controlled to prevent offsite water pollution, SELC said.

Because the project has not been designed and the water-quality impacts have been assessed for only one-sixth of the route, there is no way to comply with the requirements of the 401 program, SELC said.

DENR plans to consider the impacts of the full project later through “permit modifications,” while allowing the project to move forward with other approvals and locking in financing arrangements, SELC said, adding that the 401 permit would ostensibly allow the sale of project-specific bonds that could not be transferred to another project.

“They have essentially issued a permit that lets the (state) Turnpike Authority issue bonds to pay for the bypass without first having fully looked at the impacts to water quality as required by law,” Chandra Taylor, senior SELC attorney, said.

The groups filed suit in federal court against the authority in November under the National Environmental Policy Act, seeking a preliminary injunction against the project. That suit is ongoing, with a hearing expected this summer.

DENR could not be immediately reached for comment.

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