The deadline for public comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the South Mountain Freeway is 11 days away and Ahwatukee’s outspoken opposition to the freeway is working feverishly to get in their response.
Protecting Arizona’s Recourses and Children, or PARC, submitted more than 300 pages of comments on the draft statement last year and now that the final version is out, the group rehired experts to review the report once more.
PARC president Pat Lawlis said they are still working to get all the experts’ information together, but so far they’ve analyzed the implications of using 2010 census data instead of the data from 2005 and they’ve done some analysis on the accuracy of Maricopa Association of Government’s predictions. PARC’s general feeling is that the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) just uses confusing language that does not answer issues brought up by opponents to the project.
The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) released the FEIS on Sept. 26, giving the public until Nov. 25 to comment on it. During the public comment period, it was discovered that 10 comments submitted in 2013 were missed when ADOT prepared the responses for the FEIS.
“This was a technical issue with how a few of the received emails were handled,” said a statement from ADOT. “Measures have been put into place to better document comments when received, and relay them to the study team. In all, nearly 8,000 comments were received on this project from residents, groups and other agencies during the review of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.”
ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration have issued a formal “Notice of Omission” in the Federal Register and published an Errata to the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The Errata will be available for a 30-day public review period.
“It is just another example of how ADOT is showing that their decision on the SMF has been predetermined,” Lawlis said in an email. “If they really cared about the missing comments, they would recognize that they could have some effect on the contents of the FEIS. Changes to the FEIS could have an effect on the public review. So ADOT should be looking at releasing a supplement to the FEIS and restarting the review process. Instead, they will be giving the authors of the 10 missing comments only 30 days to review ADOT’s (undoubtedly nonresponsive) responses. And no one else will get any extension to their review time.”
Once the comment period on the FEIS is complete, ADOT will submit the report to the federal government to get a record of decision for the project. They expect that to be issued in early 2015.
PARC members have said once a record is issued, PARC’s real fight begins. They plan to appeal the record of decision and sue ADOT in a civil suit. The group says it’s possible they will lose the case in federal district court in Phoenix but they expect to win if the case should go to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
There is still time to submit a comment on the FEIS. Comments can be mailed to: South Mountain Freeway Project Team, Arizona Department of Transportation, 1655 W. Jackson St., MD 126F, Phoenix, AZ 85007, or emailed to email@example.com.
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