By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
BIRMINGHAM — The Northern Beltline highway project, which is scheduled to start construction on the first segment near Pinson next year, now faces another roadblock.
The Southern Environmental Law Center announced Friday that it has filed another lawsuit in federal court to stop construction of the highway, on behalf of the conservation group Black Warrior Riverkeeper.
The SELC claims in its press release that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acted improperly in granting permits for the initial segment between Alabama Highways 75 and 79 between Palmerdale and a rural area between Pisnon and Locust Fork. The suit asserts that the Corps engaged in “improper segmentation” by issuing permits for just that segment alone, and not for the entire 52-mile project that is proposed to run from McCalla to east of Trussville, crossing I-65 near Morris and I-22 west of Brookside.
“The Northern Beltline will cross and permanently alter Black Warrior and Cahaba river tributaries in 67 places,” said Nelson Brooke of Black Warrior Riverkeeper in the SELC statement. “ALDOT and FHWA have not adequately studied impacts to water resources and wildlife along the entire chosen route, which is the longest and most environmentally destructive of the seven routes considered.”
The lawsuit also claims that the Northern Beltline project would draw federal funds away from other needed highway projects, such as the completion of I-22 (Corridor X) or thew Corridor V project in northern Alabama.
ALDOT spokesman Tony Harris said that their office had not received a copy of the new lawsuit, and therefore could not comment for now.
This is the second lawsuit filed by the SELC and Black Warrior Riverkeeper against the Alabama Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. A 2011 suit sought to stop the project on similar grounds; it has yet to be tried.
Claims in any lawsuit support only one side of the dispute.
[Updated at 4:22 p.m. to add statement from ALDOT.]