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Update: Kentuckians for Progress Seeks to Join, Dismiss River Fields Suit Over Bridges Project

A recently-formed group that aims to move the Ohio River Bridges Project forward is seeking to join, then end a lawsuit between conservation group River Fields and the Federal Highway Administration.

Kentuckians for Progress filed a request today to join a suit against the government brought by River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. River Fields asserts that the federal government has not properly justified the case for a two bridge project, and the group would like to block an east end bridge from being built.

Kentuckians for Progress attorney Victor Maddox says as it stands, the case does not adequately represent all of views of the community.

“I’m not saying the federal government hasn’t been vigilant, but it necessarily has a different perspective. The officials that are representing the Federal Highway Administration don’t live in the community,” he says.

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Local News

Kentuckians for Progress Seeks to Join, Dismiss River Fields Suit Over Bridges Project

A recently-formed group that aims to move the Ohio River Bridges Project forward is seeking to join, then end a lawsuit between conservation group River Fields and the Federal Highway Administration.

Kentuckians for Progress filed a request to join River Fields’ suit against the government today. River Fields asserts that the federal government has not properly justified the case for a two bridge project, and the group would like to block an east end bridge from being built.

Kentuckians for Progress attorney Victor Maddox says as it stands, the case does not adequately represent all of views of the community.

“I’m not saying the federal government hasn’t been vigilant, but it necessarily has a different perspective. The officials that are representing the Federal Highway Administration don’t live in the community,” he says.

Maddox says he’s not sure River Fields has proper standing to file the suit, and he could file a motion to dismiss the case if he’s allowed to join it. A statement from River Fields is forthcoming. The case is currently stalled as the federal government conducts new environmental impact studies on the bridges project.

Kentuckians for Progress is led by former Jefferson County Judge Executive Rebecca Jackson. Its membership includes union, business and development leaders.

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Local News Next Louisville Politics

Group Launches Campaign Against River Fields

A new advocacy group called Kentuckians for Progress is launching what it calls an education campaign that’s critical of the River Fields conservancy.

The group claims that River Fields is employing legal tactics to kill construction of a new bridge in eastern
Jefferson County.

Kentuckians for Progress is headed by former Jefferson County Judge-Executive Rebecca Jackson, who says River Fields is trying to litigate the project until it grows so burdensome for taxpayers that it cannot be completed.

Jackson’s group has launched a website and is running ads urging people to call River Fields and ask that it drop a federal lawsuit it filed against the project in 2009.

“We really want a groundswell in this community to show River Fields that we know what they’re doing. They are delaying, delaying, delaying, delaying and its time to stop delaying, drop the suit and let us progress and move forward,” she said.

That lawsuit, co-filed with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is currently in mediation.

River Fields board chair Lee Cory says the conservancy is being made a scapegoat for the failure of the project’s planners to find sufficient funding for it.

“The 2009 lawsuit has nothing to do with any of the delays in the project…to say that is the case is an effort on the part of whoever these people are to create the illusion that the project would be moving forward if River Fields wasn’t in the picture, and that is simply not the case,” she said.

River Fields has contended that a new downtown bridge would sufficiently ease traffic congestion, while an East End bridge would be environmentally destructive.

Full statement from River Fields’ Lee Cory:

This campaign is designed to make River Fields into a scapegoat for the failure of a project that is collapsing of its own weight. It is designed to intentionally delude the public into believing that the Bridges Project is moving forward. Right now River Fields or no River Fields, law suit or no law suit, there is not enough money to build this project. The law suit has nothing to do with delays in the project. The FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) is requiring the Supplemental Environmental Impact Study because the Governors of Kentucky and Indiana and the Mayor of Louisville suggested new plans.

A law suit filed in 2009 is nothing new. The parties, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation who is the lead plaintiff, and River Fields are in mediation.

Founded in 1959, River Fields is one of the oldest land conservation citizens groups in the country. With over 2,000 members from throughout the region, we have preserved 2,200 acres for the public forever, including Shelby Trails Park, a 400 acre park that opens next week. The claims on the website and in the newspaper ad are misleading. The reason the project is not moving forward is that there is not enough money.

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Environment Local News Next Louisville

Donated Farm To Become Public Park

A dedication ceremony will be held this Sunday for a major new addition to the Shelby County Parks system.

A 387 acre farm donated by Dr. Roger and Diane Shott will become an equestrian park and nature preserve called Shelby Trails Park.

The Shotts (pictured) turned the land and development rights over to the conservation group River Fields. Meme Runyon is the executive director.

“The exiting thing is that it’s permanently preserved, so it will be a public park that will also be preserved forever because there’s a conservation easement on it,” she said.

The park will be open to the public Sunday from 1:00-6:00pm, with the formal dedication at 2:30pm. It’s free but those who plan to attend should RSVP to Shelby County Parks at 502-633-5059.

Photo courtesy of www.shelbycountyparks.com

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Local News Next Louisville

Harrods Creek Bridge To Re-Open Monday

City and state officials have scheduled a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Monday afternoon to re-open the Harrods Creek Bridge.

The nearly century-old bridge along River Road in eastern Jefferson County was shut down in November of 2008, after a state inspector deemed it unsafe for automobile traffic.

It has been largely rebuilt and widened to two lanes in a project that saw several delays.

The conservation group River Fields filed suit, saying it wanted to preserve the original bridge and keep it one lane to prevent speeding in the area. The legal action was eventually dropped. Construction was also delayed by seasonal weather conditions.

The bridge will be officially re-opened to traffic Monday afternoon at 3:00.

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Local News

Harrods Creek Bridge Construction On Track

by Gabe Bullard

The rebuilding and widening of Harrods Creek Bridge in eastern Jefferson County is set to be completed in August.

In November 2008, the bridge was closed due to safety concerns. Since then, Metro Government’s plan to rebuild and widen the one-lane span has faced several delays. The conservation group River Fields sought to protect the bridge, and filed two lawsuits to that effect.

The group won an injunction last summer, but later lost a federal appeal and dropped both suits. Construction resumed in the fall, but was delayed once more by winter weather.

Mayor’s spokesperson Lindsay English says progress has been slow for the last few months, but will resume at full speed soon.

“By the middle of April, the crews will be bringing about nine 70-foot-long beams and the next step will be to add the decking panels on top,” she says. “So there’s going to be a lot of progress out there in the next month or so.”

The project’s budget is $2 million.

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Local News

Bridges Authority Unlikely To Curb Opposition

The bi-state authority appointed to oversee the long-debated Ohio River Bridges Project is set to begin meeting this month. The fourteen-member panel, with seven member each from Kentucky and Indiana, is committed to building spans in downtown Louisville and eastern Jefferson County and a reworking of Spaghetti Junction, now with an estimated cost of more than $4 billion. Opposition groups, however, are committed to fighting the project. They favor some variation of the current plan, and say the formation of an authority isn’t going to silence them.

One of the most vocal opponents in Metro Government of the two bridges plan is Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh. She also opposes the mayor’s four appointments to the authority because they do not include any council members. She says the public should have a representative on the panel .

“We don’t vote on anything. We don’t get to deliberate on anything,” she says. “Their recommendation goes to Frankfort, and we have no vote in Frankfort, other than our elected officials.”

Even though the authority will have public meetings, Ward-Pugh wants citizens to have a more direct voice in the project. She says two bridges are unnecessary and too expensive, and predicts that will eventually become clear to others.

“Once we move forward building the east-end bridge as is slated to be built first, this community and the leaders now who are for two bridges will understand clearly why we just need one East-End bridge and we’ll have time to try it on for size and see what works,” she says.

Ward-Pugh’s plan is similar to the one put forward by the group 8664. It proposes only an east-end bridge and a new parkway in place of interstate 64 downtown. 8664 leaders say they will remain committed to their plan as the authority begins its work. And then there’s the conservation group River Fields, which has its own ideas about bridge location.

“River Fields isn’t in favor of massive concrete projects at all, but is aware of the purpose and need of this project,” says River Fields’ attorney Bob Griffith.

Griffith says the current plan for two bridges is outdated and ignores modern public transportation. A fresh study, Griffith says, would recommend improved public transit, a reduced Spaghetti Junction and, if needed, a downtown bridge but no east-end bridge. He says River Fields is calling for the current plans to be re-examined and has taken the matter to court.

“River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have filed a lawsuit which challenges the environmental impact statement and ask that it be re-opened for further study,” he says.

“The basic project has been studied enough,” says Joe Reagan, president of Greater Louisville Inc, the chamber of commerce, and a member of the bi-state authority. He says more research won’t reveal anything new.

“This is what has been studied and it has been determined. And it is a system. And the system works if you work the system. If you try to cherry-pick and say we’re only going to build half the project, it doesn’t work,” he says.

Reagan says there have been enough delays in the project and he’s confident a two bridges solution will move forward once the authority begins meeting. He’s not yet sure what will be discussed initially, but finding a financing mechanism will be among the top agenda items.

While the authority was formed to transcend political pressure and speed up the bridges’ construction, it’s clear that every decision will face challenges, as Ward-Pugh, 8664 and River Fields remain dedicated to their own visions for the bridges project.

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Local News

Officials: Harrods Creek Bridge Project To Resume

The Louisville mayor’s office says the project to widen the Harrods Creek Bridge on River Road will resume soon.

Mayor’s spokesperson Kerri Richardson says the conservation group River Fields is dropping its legal challenges to the construction.

“From what we can tell the proper paperwork has not yet been filed in federal court, but we understand River Fields has decided to abandon their two federal lawsuits that have logjammed construction of the Harrods Creek Bridge and as soon as that paperwork is filed we hope to be back working on that project,” Richardson said.

The one-lane bridge in eastern Jefferson County was shut down by Louisville Metro Government last November after a state highway engineer deemed it unsafe for traffic.

River Field has been opposed to widening the bridge. A federal appeals court recently denied the group’s request for an injunction to stop the construction work, which began in June.

Richardson says its not clear when the project will be completed, but it probably won’t meet its original mid-December deadline.

The attorney for River Fields was not immediately available for comment late Monday.

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Local News

Abramson Shocked at Bridges Lawsuit

Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson says a federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. last week could delay work on the $4-billion dollar Ohio River Bridges Project.

The local conservation group River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation filed the suit against the Federal Highway Administration. They claim the federal government violated environmental and transportation laws in the planning of the project.

Abramson says it’s an unexpected hitch in the project.

“To tell you the truth, I was really shocked,” says Abramson. “I mean, there’s been some discussion over the years since the Record of Decision was submitted but it’s been five, six years, and to think this move would take place two days before the statute of limitations had run… I really thought we were beyond this.”

Two months ago, governors from both Kentucky and Indiana joined Abramson in announcing the formation of a bi-state authority to oversee the construction of the bridges.

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Environment Local News

Conservation Groups Sue Over Bridges Project

The local environmental group River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are suing the Federal Highway Administration. The groups want the government to reconsider approval of the massive transportation project, which they claim was granted illegally. The plaintiffs have issued statements saying the project should be reevaluated since it was approved six years ago. They also say the highway administration, which has not yet commented publicly on the suit, failed to follow environmental review guidelines. The Bridges project has been the focus of controversy in Louisville, both for its design as well as its expected cost.