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Louisville’s Transportation Committee Says End Litigation Against Bridges Project

Louisville Metro Council’s Transportation, Bridges and Public Works Committee is asking River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to drop its suit against the Ohio River Bridges Project, as it continues to narrow down the options to begin building by next August.

“We are in a battle saying what can we do to help move this forward and anybody that’s thinks they’re going to stand there and say no, no, no, no, no—those days are over. It is time to move forward,” said Councilman Kelly Downward.

Litigation from the conservation group River Fields is just one issue delaying the project, said Downard. The committee passed a resolution asking litigation to end. River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation say the federal government hasn’t properly made the case for both bridges, but criticism of the suit and the organizations has grown in recent years.

It’s unlikely the resolution will sway any future decisions by the federal courts, if it passes, said William O’Brien with the Jefferson County attorney’s office.

“I hate to be facetious and smart, but I don’t really think the federal court system is going to weigh anything that you all have to say in a resolution,” he said.

The Louisville and Southern Indiana Bridges Authority gave progress reports to the committee Thursday. Co-chair Kerry Stemler said discussions around proposed methods of building the bridges continue. Six methods for building the project are being discussed and in all but one option Kentucky’s state law will have to change, he said.

The resolution against River Fields will go before the full council next Thursday. River Fields rejected an invitation to attend the committee meeting.

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Local News Politics

Federal Judge Allows Kentuckians for Progress to Intervene in River Fields Lawsuit

A federal judge has ruled that a group supporting the Ohio River Bridges Project can intervene in the lawsuit between the conservation group River Fields and the Federal Highway Administration.

In May, Kentuckians for Progress filed a request to join the suit against the federal government as co-defendants to challenge  River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who filed the suit two years ago.

Preservationists claim the federal agency couldn’t justify portions of the bridges project, relied on misleading information, failed to adequately consider potential  impacts and did not prepare an updated environmental report.

On September 12, U.S. District Judge John Heyburn III found that KFP has a “legitimate interest” in the case which could “be beneficial if this litigation would proceed beyond its current stage.” The ruling was made over strenuous objections by attorneys for the plaintiffs, who argued for the past four months that  Kentuckians for Progress had no legal interest in the matter.

Attorney Vic Maddox, who represents Kentuckians for Progress, says the ruling now gives them the rights and privileges of the other defendants to pursue a dismissal of the case.

“Now we will be able to participate presumably in the confidential mediation sessions and anything else that takes place in court,” he says. “With that Kentuckians for Progress has the right to pursue the remedies that any defendant would have, including a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which is something we intend to pursue.”

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Local News

National Attention for KY Lawmaker’s Opposition to Anti-Bullying Bill; River Fields Denies Delaying ORBP; DuPont Fined for Rubbertown Violations; McConnell Questions Obama’s Ohio Visit: Afternoon Review

Profiling a 14-year-old boy who committed suicide after years of alleged anti-gay taunts at school, CNN’s Anderson Cooper covered opposition to bullying legislation in Kentucky by highlighting state Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, who believes homosexuality is a sin.

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. 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.

And in other bridge-related news, engineers say it will take another week-and-a-half to finish their inspection of the Sherman Minton Bridge. Then they’ll be able to determine how long it will take to repair the bridge and re-open it to traffic.

Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell questioned the motives of President Barack Obama’s planned visit to the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati, alleging it’s more about his re-election than solving the country’s economic woes. The span connecting Kentucky to Ohio was cited in Mr. Obama’s speech before a joint session of Congress earlier this month as an example of the country’s crumbling infrastructure needs.

And the Louisville Air Pollution Control Board voted today to approve a settlement between the city and DuPont for permit violations at the company’s Rubbertown plant. The board order fines the company $51,000.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

River Fields Leaders Lash Out at Council, Civic Leaders

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.”

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Local News

ORBP Rally, Ruling on Home Entry Case, Fischer Meets with Obama, Green Buildings: Afternoon Review

Prominent supporters of the Ohio Rive Bridges Project and members of the Louisville Metro Council held a rally today, supporting a resolution drafted Monday in reaction to the closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge, which was shut down September 9 after cracks were discovered in some load-bearing supports. They also blamed conservation group River Fields for blocking progress on the ORBP and ignoring the city’s infrastructure needs.

The Indiana Supreme Court, in a 4-1 decision, upheld the ruling of a lower court who held that citizens don’t have the right to resist police officers who illegally enter their homes. The ruling drew protests that it violated constitutional protections against illegal searches and centuries of common law precedent regarding homeowners’ rights.

President Barack Obama will visit the Brent Spence Bridge between Ohio and Kentucky later this week, and he’s issued an invitation to Mayor Greg Fischer to meet him there. Mr. Obama is travelling to rally support for and urge Congress to pass the American Jobs Act, which includes $50 billion in infrastructure funding. The mayor plans to stress to the president that the Ohio River Bridges Project needs to begin as soon as possible.

Green buildings are often seen as a luxury; many are costly and take years to recoup their costs in energy savings. But as energy prices rise, sustainable building methods are starting to make even more fiscal sense for all types of structures.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Council Members, ORBP Supporters Rally for Infrastructure Resolution

Joined by high-profiled supporters of the Ohio River Bridges Projects, members of the Louisville Metro Council pointed the finger at the conservation group River Fields for blocking the city’s infrastructure needs.

City lawmakers are rallying support for a resolution drafted Monday in reaction to the closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge, which was shut down September 9 after cracks were discovered in some load-bearing supports.

The non-binding measure calls for an expedited construction schedule of the $3.6 billion public works project and underscores the Sherman Minton closure as a reason to get it moving forward at a quicker pace. It criticizes River Fields, which has opposed an East End Bridge mainly for environmental reasons, asking the organization to cease all legal actions that it alleges are delaying the project.

Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, says constituents in her district have been affected by the Sherman Minton being shut down and there is an urgent need for funding the area’s current and future infrastructure projects.

“The time for talk, delay and lawsuits is over, this debate over the years has lacked something that we now have, a serious, immediate and pressing need to move forward. That serious reason has now been presented to this community in dramatic fashion with the unexpected closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge for over a week now,” she says.

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Local News Noise & Notes Politics

Northup Slams River Fields, Yarmuth Over Bridges

Appearing on 84 WHAS radio Thursday morning to discuss the closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge, former Congresswoman Anne Northup blamed the conservation group River Fields and incumbent Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., for the city’s inadequate infrastructure.

The Sherman Minton Bridge shut down last week after Indiana inspectors found a crack in the main load-bearing portion of the span. The sudden closure has rerouted thousands of motorist in the area and reignited calls for a span to be built in east Louisville to alleviate traffic congestion.

Northup specifically slammed River Fields for filing several lawsuits to obstruct the Ohio River Bridges Project—which calls for a downtown bridge, an East End bridge and reconfiguration of Spaghetti Junction—from going forward.

“My leadership wasn’t about this is what I want. It was about what this community wants. And there was no one willing to step up to the very powerful people that were part of River Fields and say we are going to get this process back on track,” she says.

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Local News Next Louisville Politics

Jones, Others Press River Fields To Drop Bridge Suit

The newly-formed group Kentuckians For Progress continues its public relations push to persuade the River Fields conservancy to drop is lawsuit that seeks to delay construction of an east end bridge.

River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation filed the federal suit two years ago, claiming the Federal Highway Administration did not follow federal law when it approved the Ohio River Bridges Project in 2003.

Today at the Galt House, members of Kentuckians For Progress, surrounded by about 100 business and civic leaders, held a press conference urging River Fields to drop the suit.

Among the speakers was Humana founder David Jones, KFP’s Rebecca Jackson, and construction business owner and union leader Larry Hujo (pictured), who called the suit a ruse by property owners in eastern Jefferson County to have the bridge built elsewhere.

“I’ve heard these same people that say, ‘if you build that bridge in the East End, you’re going to have a devastating impact on the river and its environs. Build it in Valley Station. Now, I’m not an environmentalist and a person who knows about plants and little animals and critters and stuff, but isn’t that the same river?” he said.

River Fields board chair Lee Cory says the suit is not preventing planners from moving forward with other elements of the project.

“There is no injunction in this situation, no injunction has ever been requested. They have been free to proceed with this project all along,” she said.

The lawsuit is in mediation and on hold pending completion of an environmental impact study.

Cory says River Fields supports a downtown bridge and a reconfigured Spaghetti Junction, but believes an east end bridge would offer no significant traffic or safety benefits.

Many members of River Fields supported Mayor Greg Fischer’s election campaign. A spokesman for Fischer says the mayor supports the efforts to end the lawsuit, but wasn’t sure if Fischer had talked with members of River Fields directly.

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Local News Next Louisville Politics

Kentucky, Indiana Seek To Intervene In Bridges Suit

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation have asked to intervene in a lawsuit filed by two groups over the Ohio River Bridges Project.

The groups—River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation—filed suit against the Federal Highway Administration claiming it didn’t follow federal law when it approved the project in 2003.

Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said the motion to intervene was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Louisville because the lawsuit “threatens to delay the project and drive up costs.”

River Fields and the National Trust filed the lawsuit against the FHWA in September 2009.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Indiana Department of Transportation have participated in legal proceedings related to the case but have not been formal parties.

The suit also prompted the creation of Kentuckians for Progress, which has mounted a public campaign aimed at pressuring the groups to drop the litigation. It’s also seeking to join the lawsuit and dismantle it.

(Information for this story also came from the Associated Press)

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Local News

Jackson Says Kentuckians for Progress Supporters Come From Various Sides of Bridges Debate

The newest player in the conflict over the Ohio River Bridges Project is gaining support.

Kentuckians for Progress began earlier this year to stop the conservation group River Fields from blocking the construction of a bridge in eastern Jefferson County. The group, like several others, wants the east end bridge and a downtown bridge built. Other groups want only an eastern span or a staggered construction that begins with the east end bridge.

Kentuckians for Progress president and former Jefferson County Judge-Executive Rebecca Jackson says KFP’s donors and supporters come from various sides of the debate.

“We have some people who are very interested in making sure the east end bridge gets built and the suit gets dropped so it can get built. We had some people giving to us, and when we made ourselves known, we started getting some funds in through the website,” she says.

The suit KFP is fighting was filed by River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It argues that the federal government did not properly justify the need for an east end bridge. KFP has filed to join the suit, which is stalled as new environmental impact studies are prepared on the bridges project. River Fields says the necessity of the east end bridge can be discussed in the requisite public forums during the environmental review.