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News >  Idaho

Group files suit against bypass

Opponents of a controversial highway bypass through Sandpoint have filed suit against the Federal Highway Administration and the Idaho Department of Transportation to try to stop the project.

The North Idaho Community Action Network filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Boise challenging the Sand Creek Byway project, a bypass designed to route through traffic around downtown Sandpoint.

The estimated $70 million project would place the highway alongside the BNSF Railway tracks that stretch from the north end of the Long Bridge to the city of Ponderay at the intersection of state Highway 200 and U.S. Highways 95 and 2.

The Idaho Department of Transportation is securing the last bits of right of way for the highway and environmental permits to encroach on Sand Creek.

Friday, the agency filed an application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a dredging permit to remove sediment from the creek that otherwise could be pushed into Lake Pend Oreille once the creek’s channel is narrowed by the highway project.

The bypass design calls for extending the east shoreline of the creek about 100 feet into the channel to accommodate the highway, bike path and landscaping.

An encroachment permit for the massive amounts of fill required has been issued by the Idaho Department of Lands.

A permit from the Army Corps of Engineers is pending.

Although the latest design was developed after multiple public meetings, opponents remain concerned about the aesthetic and environmental impacts of placing a highway along the shoreline of Sandpoint’s downtown waterway.

“The project’s overall impacts on the area’s economic future and on environmental, historic and aesthetic resources have not been considered or disclosed to the public,” said Liz Sedler, director of the grass-roots organization that filed the lawsuit.

The group claims that the information in the 1999 environmental impact statement is inaccurate or incomplete. The subsequent environmental document for the proposed changes in the project also was inadequate, Sedler said.

Furthermore, opponents argue that the bypass won’t resolve the city’s traffic problems downtown.

One of the reasons for the project, which first was proposed more than 50 years ago, is to eliminate the three 90-degree turns that commercial truckers find difficult to negotiate through downtown Sandpoint.

The group is being represented by the Western Environmental Law Center and locally by Coeur d’Alene attorney Scott Reed.

Transportation officials declined to comment on the complaint Monday because they haven’t had time to review it.

The project, which was supposed to go to bid in late summer or early fall, already is running behind schedule, said project manager Mike Fitzgerald.

“Buying the property and picking up our last environmental clearances have taken us an extra year,” he said.

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