The U.S. Federal Highway Administration (“FHWA”) and United States Department of Transportation (“USDOT”) have prevailed in a case filed by two environmental groups, the Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County and the Indian Riverkeeper, challenging federal agency approval of the Crosstown Parkway Extension Project – Bridge Crossing of the North Fork of the St. Lucie River (the “Project”).
On November 5, 2015, U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks entered an Order finding in favor of the FHWA and USDOT, and against the two environmental groups. In the case, the environmental groups challenged the bridge alignment proposed by the City of Port St. Lucie (“City”), as approved by the FHWA and USDOT. The Court invited the City’s participation in the case by allowing the City to file an amicus curiae memorandum, known as a “friend of the Court” brief. The Court noted in its Order that it specifically considered the City’s amicus brief, and mentioned the City’s brief several times during oral argument on October 6, 2015.
The City was required to comply with various environmental review processes in order to obtain the necessary federal approval of the Project. In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) the City, in collaboration with numerous federal, state and local agencies, prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) that extensively analyzed the Project’s purpose and need, alternatives, and benefits and impacts to the human environment. After applying the NEPA regulations and following the EIS process, the build alternative Route 1C was selected and approved by the City, FHWA, USDOT and FDOT as the preferred alternative.
The Court’s Order upheld the FHWA’s decision to approve the City’s Project to construct a bridge crossing following the locally preferred alternative Route 1C, finding that the City’s preferred alternative had the least environmental and social impacts. As part of the Project, the City proposed an ambitious mitigation plan that will result in a net benefit to the natural resources. The Court rejected the build alternative Route 6A that was preferred by the Plaintiffs and agreed with the FHWA’s determination that the Plaintiffs’ alternative would cause the most severe social impacts to communities on both sides of the St. Lucie River, while providing the least amount of traffic diversion.
As to the City, the Court specifically noted that the need for a third river crossing was identified as far back as the 1980s. The Order references the voter referendum, in which 89% of the voters approved funding for the Project. The Federal Judge pointed out that the City’s selection process fully evaluated natural environment impacts, including impacts to wetlands, upland habitat, and species habitat. Notably, the Court commended the City’s “lengthy, comprehensive, and collaborative process” with the federal, state and local agencies and “the commitment to the protection and preservation of the River and Preserve, which after all are state resources.”
City Manager, Jeff Bremer, stated “the city is pleased that the federal court recognized the City’s significant commitment to protecting the state’s natural resources, while working closely with all of the involved federal and state agencies and stakeholders.” Pam Booker, the City Attorney, noted that “the court gave careful consideration of the City’s interests, and the substantial public safety benefits the Crosstown Parkway Bridge project will provide to the resident of Port St. Lucie.”