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
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, a member of the coalition going to court.
"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 a critical environmental issue." said
Jennifer Hansen of The American Lake Gardens Equestrian Alliance, also a
plaintiff in the suit. "The responsible agencies did not adequately
consider other reasonable alternatives to paving a new freeway across this very
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 over 200 horses and over
350 residents enjoy horseback riding at these facilities. The businesses also
provide recreation and employment for the disadvantaged youth, 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.
To read the notice of intent letter visit: