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State wants venue of W.Va. 9 lawsuit changed

February 05, 2002

State wants venue of W.Va. 9 lawsuit changed

Charles Town, W.Va.

By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia highways officials are requesting that a lawsuit filed over the W.Va. 9 expansion project be moved from U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to a federal court in West Virginia.

State Highway Engineer Joe Deneault said Monday the venue for the lawsuit should be moved from U.S. District Court in Washington because the court there has "absolutely no connection to this case."

The state Department of Transportation wants to move the case to the Northern District of U.S. District Court, where it could be heard in Elkins, Wheeling or Martinsburg, said Deneault.


Pat Fiori, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said the groups bringing the suit want it heard in Washington, D.C., because there are federal issues involved, including federal funding.

About $110 million in federal money has been set aside for widening W.Va. 9 from two lanes to four.

The lawsuit, which was filed by seven groups from West Virginia and Virginia, alleges that the Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation violated the Environmental Policy Act and a section of the Department of Transportation Act dealing with historic sites, according to the Department of Transportation.

"There's clearly a federal government issue there," said Fiori.

Fiori has said she would like to see the planned expansion of W.Va. 9 from Charles Town to the Virginia line halted until a better plan can be devised.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy, who sits in Washington, D.C., will decide the change of venue matter.

Last week, representatives from the West Virginia Department of Transportation and plaintiffs who filed the suit reached an agreement over a request for a temporary restraining order that would have halted construction on the project.

In exchange for the plaintiff's decision to withdraw the request for the restraining order, the Department of Transportation has agreed that through May 31, it will not continue with construction of piers and abutments for a proposed bridge over the Charles Town Bypass.

The Department of Transportation may continue with other right-of-way acquisition efforts and engineering work, the release said.

It is hoped that after May 31, the case will be closer to a resolution, Fiori said.

Around May 31, a federal judge is expected to set a date for both sides to make oral arguments in the case, said Deneault.

The judge will make a decision on the case after hearing the arguments, Deneault said.

If the plaintiffs lose the lawsuit, Deneault said he fears they will appeal the case, which could lead to another year of "legal wrangling" before the project could move ahead.

Fiori said she believes there will be an appeal no matter who prevails.

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