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Anti-growth enviro group files suit to block Northern Beltline

Northern Beltline

An anti-economic growth environmental group is doing everything it can to stop the Northern Beltline.

Once completed, the Northern Beltline will be a 52-mile highway that will run from Interstate 59 in northeast Jefferson County to the Interstate 459 and I-20/59 junction in southwest Jefferson County.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers approved the permit for construction, but the Southern Environmental Law Center today filed a lawsuit on behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeeper Inc. challenging the permit and seeking to block construction.

According to the Birmingham Business Journal, “the lawsuit claims the Corps of Engineers should have performed an environmental evaluation of the entire 52-mile project, rather than segmenting the project and evaluating only the first phase – which will connect Alabama 75 and Alabama 79.”

The first phase of construction, which was scheduled to begin in 2014, would include a 1.34 mile portion between Alabama Highways 75 and 79 in northeast Jefferson County. It is expected to take five to six years to complete.

Gov. Bentley has touted the economic growth that would come with the Beltline’s construction.

“The Northern Beltline will support economic development and additional job creation in Jefferson County,” Bentley said. “It will link all the Interstates in the county, and it will increase accessibility to several communities. New industries look for modern infrastructure and convenient access when considering locations to build and create jobs. The Northern Beltline will spur economic growth and benefit drivers and residents throughout Jefferson County.”

But environmentalists say the new road would hurt wildlife in the area.

“The Northern Beltline will cross and permanently alter Black Warrior and Cahaba river tributaries in 67 places,” Nelson Brooke of Black Warrior Riverkeeper said. “The (Alabama Department of Transportation) and (Federal Highway Administration) 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.”

A 2010 study by the University of Alabama’s Center of Business and Economic Research found that the project would support up to 70,000 jobs. It could also lead to almost 21,000 more jobs in the coming years.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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