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W.Va. 9 widening is halted

December 18, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN - The widening of W.Va. 9 from two to four lanes from Charles Town south to the Virginia state line has been halted until two federal lawsuits challenging the design of that segment of the road have been resolved, officials said Tuesday.

The West Virginia Division of Highways has agreed to stop work on the segment of the highway project because of issues raised in the lawsuits about how the new highway would affect the Shenandoah River and Belvedere Farm, a National Historic Register property south of Charles Town.

The agreement does not affect the widening of W.Va. 9 from Charles Town to Martinsburg, W.Va., highway officials and parties involved in the lawsuits said.

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Possibly as early as this week, the Division of Highways plans to begin advertising for bids to begin a one-mile section of the four-lane road in the Bardane, W.Va., area, state highway engineer Joe Deneault said Tuesday.

On the Charles Town-to-Virginia segment, the Division of Highways will finish work it has started on a one-mile segment that begins at the Charles Town Bypass and ends east of Cattail Road, according to a press release from the five groups that filed the lawsuits.

The highway department has agreed to "demobilize" the construction activities and seed the areas after the work is completed, the release said.

The highway department also has agreed not to take steps to acquire property where the support structure for the proposed Shenandoah River bridge would be constructed, the release said.

Deneault generally agreed with the details of the release.

One lawsuit challenges the project because of possible impact on Belvedere Farm.

U.S. District Judge Craig Broadwater dismissed the suit in August, saying that two of the groups that brought the lawsuit, the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, did not have standing in the case.

The decision has been appealed to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, the release said.

Initial briefs have been filed but oral arguments have not been scheduled.

A decision could take several months, the release said.

Another lawsuit challenges the proposed bridge over the Shenandoah River and alleges the highway department was barred from starting any portion of the project until a permit was obtained. The Army Corps of Engineers later issued a permit to allow the state to build the bridge.

Tom Michael, a Clarksburg, W.Va., attorney working on the suit, is amending the suit to challenge the permit, the release said. That suit also is pending before Broadwater.

The groups bringing the lawsuits are concerned about the number of trees in a forested area along the Shenandoah River that would have to be removed for the bridge, said Jeremy P. Muller, head of one of the organizations.

The number of trees that would have to be removed for the bridge is important because they act as a filter to keep sediment out of the river, said Muller, executive director of the Elkins, W.Va.-based West Virginia Rivers Coalition, an organization that works to protect the health of rivers in the state.

The groups also have been concerned about the amount of fill material that would be needed to install the bridge, saying about 1.7 million cubic yards of fill material would be needed.

Muller said in a telephone interview Monday he believes a possible source of the fill material is "bioremediated" soil from the Millville Quarry, which is nearby on the Shenandoah River.

The quarry runs an operation in which contaminated soil is shipped by railroad to the quarry and treated on site, the news release said.

The quarry stores contaminated soil and the soil that has been "bioremediated," Muller said.

"That was a big concern of ours. Some operations clean it better than others," Muller said.

Because of the concerns, the groups do not want the bridge built, Muller said. Muller declined to suggest a different way of building the bridge.

"Our job is not planning highways. Our job is protecting rivers," Muller said.

Deneault said there has been no decision to use soil from the Millville Quarry for fill material. Deneault said that decision would be made by the contractor and no contractor has been chosen.

If soil from the quarry were selected for fill material, it would have to be tested before it could be used, Deneault said.

With regard to tree removal along the river, the environmental agencies required to review the plans have found no problems with the proposals, Deneault said.

Deneault said he believes it would be "very difficult" to come up with a different bridge design.

"We believe we have done everything possible to find the best route," said Deneault. He said he believes the courts will ultimately decide in the two lawsuits that the highway department has proceeded properly on the project.

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