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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Cross Base Highway Hits Roadblock

Coalition announces lawsuit against new highway proposal

Coalition files a notice of intent to sue over Cross Base Highway project to save endangered prairie and local community

Cross Base Highway Hits Roadblock

Fort Lewis oak-woodland prairie

Tacoma, WA Nov 29, 2006

Today, a coalition of concerned local businesses, conservation groups, and equestrians filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Federal Highway Administration, the Washington State Department of Transportation, and Pierce County over their plans to build a new four-lane, six-mile highway which would cut across Fort Lewis Army Base and McChord Air Force Base.

If constructed, the highway would drive out local equestrian businesses and bisect the largest remnant oak woodland-prairie left in Washington, say members of the coalition.   The controversial highway proposal is currently being considered as part of Regional Transit Investment District (RTID) package that will be brought to the voters next fall. But a new lawsuit and ballooning costs cast doubt on whether the project will survive the process.

The Washington Department of Transportation puts the current price tag for the highway at $289 million in 2006 dollars. Yet only a fraction of these funds have been raised, requiring taxpayers to foot an additional $250 million to see the project through. Plaintiffs expect these costs to multiply due to the high costs associated with building a highway through a highly endangered ecosystem, coupled with rising construction costs and commodity prices.

 The US Fish and Wildlife Service believes that the remaining South Puget Sound prairies may be possibly the rarest habitat in North America, home to at least 29 species of federal and/or state threatened, endangered, candidate and sensitive plant and animal species of concern, 18 of which are in the immediate vicinity of the proposed highway.

 “RTID’s worthy transit projects are much more likely to gain approval if they remain separate from this controversial highway project,” said Krystal Kyer of Tahoma Audubon, one of the groups preparing to file the lawsuit.  “The county proposes replacing our rare and priceless oak-woodland prairie with a few hundred acres of cow pastures,” Kyer added. “This largest remaining piece of oak-woodland prairie is irreplaceable.”

“The state clearly has higher priority transportation needs, such as maintaining existing roads and bridges. This project is the only new road in the RTID package, and ignores the most important environmental issue of our time," said Jennifer Hansen of The American Lake Gardens Equestrian Alliance, also a plaintiff group.  “The responsible agencies did not adequately consider other reasonable alternatives to paving a new freeway across this very special place.” 

The American Lake Gardens Equestrian Alliance is comprised of businesses and residences from American Lake Gardens Tract, an environmental justice community and home to Tacoma’s oldest and largest equestrian community. Six barns provide stabling for more than 200 horses and over 350 residents enjoy horseback riding at these facilities. The businesses also provide recreation and employment for disadvantaged youth and 4-H and pony clubs of the area as well as providing handicapped and therapeutic riding programs which are not available anywhere else in the area.

The equestrian facilities will be forced to close down business upon the start of construction of the highway. Also threatened with closure is the Woodbrook Hunt Club, an equestrian riding club on the National Historic Register that has been in existence since 1924.

The lawsuit was filed by Bricklin, Newman, Dold, LLP on behalf of the Woodbrook Hunt Club, Conservation Northwest, the Tahoma Audubon Society, and The American Lake Gardens Equestrian Alliance. In addition to this new lawsuit, another suit seeking federal protection for endangered wildlife threatened by extinction by the proposed highway is currently being considered in federal court. The outcome of either of these lawsuits could potentially send the highway project back to the drawing board.

Contact:

Jasmine Minbashian, Conservation Northwest                                                (360) 319-3111

Krystal Kyer, Tahoma Audubon                                                                            (253) 232-9978

Jenn Hansen, American Lake Gardens Equestrian Alliance                         (253) 377-4892

Melody Fleckenstein, Woodbrook Hunt Club                                                     (206) 695-2319

To read the letter of intent visit: http://www.conservationnw.org/wildlife-habitat/CrossBaseLetter/view

For more information visit: http://www.crossbasehighway.com

To learn more about the south sound prairies visit: http://www.southsoundprairies.org/basics.htm

 

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