Leaders with the conservation group River Fields rebuffed a resolution introduced in the Louisville Metro Council that blames them for delays to the Ohio River Bridges Project.
The non-binding measure cites the Sherman Minton Bridge closure as a reason to speed up construction of the $3.6 billion project. It also criticizes the conservancy group for a lawsuit filed against the against the Federal Highway Administration, saying River Fields is obstructing the bridges project through legal challenges.
The resolution received public support Tuesday from Humana founder David Jones and former Jefferson County Judge Executive Rebecca Jackson, who both requested that President Obama get involved directly to get the bridges project moving.
River Fields Board of Trustees President Lee Cory says city lawmakers and civic leaders are whipping up a mob mentality to demonize the group, adding River Fields is not responsible for the delays.
“There is no injunction associated with the River Fields appeal. For 40 years they have been perfectly free to proceed with the project,” she says. “They’ve been free to proceed with it before the appeal was filed and after the appeal was filed. Because there is no injunction, River Fields appeal is doing nothing to stop them.”
The closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge has reopened the debate about the city’s inadequate infrastructure and focused attention on the behemoth public works project, which encompasses the construction of an east Louisville bridge, a downtown span and reconfiguration of Spaghetti Junction.
River Fields has opposed building an East End bridge mainly for environmental reasons, but Cory says it favors the construction of a downtown bridge. The council measure urges the preservationists and other environmental groups to drop all legal actions against the project.
Jackson offered the most stinging words against the group during her comments Tuesday, saying River Fields represents a small minority of affluent residents who ares obstructing the will of the community.
But Cory says Jackson and council members are using them as a scapegoat and aren’t being honest with the public about the details of the project’s status.
“For the good of the community—as she says—Rebecca Jackson and company ought to explain to the public exactly how River Fields is holding up the project,” she says. “Because if she is challenged to do that she can’t answer that question because the truth is River Fields is not holding up the project.”
Cory says delays to the public works project are due to the ongoing debate about tolling, the lack of financing plan and a new environmental impact study mandated by federal law. But critics of the group maintain the lawsuits have made the Ohio River Bridges Project more expensive.
“That has been River Fields’ response all along. While they’ve been muddying the waters of this project they sit back and say it’s the financing and not us. It’s easy to say because while they’ve sat back they’ve been running up the cost of this project,” says Joe Burgan, a spokesman with Kentuckians for Progress, which is seeking to stop the litigation. “You need to look no further than the cost of the East End bridge, which is no equal to the cost of Spaghetti Junction. Those are direct efforts of River Fields to put every home they can get on the historic registry to make it more costly.”
The council’s resolution will be discussed in the transportation committee October 6.
Councilman Robin Engel, R-22, who is an original co-sponsor and chairs the pane has invited the group’s leaders to testify.
Cory says the group will accept the invitation to address the council and public’s concerns and to discuss the details of their court appeal.