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Lawsuit Filed Over Proposed Congaree River Bridge in SC

Tue September 26, 2006 - Southeast Edition
CEG



COLUMBIA, SC (AP) Several environmental groups have sued the state Department of Transportation and federal highway officials over a plan to replace the U.S. 601 bridge over the Congaree River.

Transportation officials want to build a total of four bridges connected by causeways over the river and surrounding swamps. The $37 million project will replace the current 58-year-old deteriorating span.

But the environmentalists say the causeways would act as walls, keeping the water in the swamps from flowing naturally and blocking wildlife. They want the whole four-mile project built as a bridge, which transportation officials said would cost close to $75 million.

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 13 by the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, Audubon South Carolina and Friends of Congaree Swamp.

The suit says highway officials ignored concerns by other government agencies about the project and failed to conduct a detailed study on how the project would effect the area.

The groups want a federal court to stop additional work to complete the project until more detailed environmental studies can be done.

A new federal rule forced the groups to sue the state DOT and Federal Highway Administration by Sept. 13 or forfeit their right to do so, said Jimmy Chandler, an attorney for the environmental groups.

Chandler hopes the two sides can work out a settlement.

Neither state or federal officials would talk about the lawsuit.

Construction on the new bridge is set to start in 2009, but it is unclear if the lawsuit will push that back.

The U.S. 601 bridge crosses the Congaree River at the Calhoun-Richland county line, southeast of Columbia.

It’s not far from Congaree National Park, which has the largest contiguous tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the country. The Congaree River’s large flood plain helped foster the varied trees and wildlife in the park.

It’s the second time in two days environmentalists have sued state and federal road builders over a South Carolina bridge.

On Sept. 12, environmental groups sued, challenging a bridge across Lake Marion near the Upper Santee Swamp, not far from the U.S. 601 bridge.

But unlike the Lake Marion bridge, conservationists don’t question the need for the Congaree bridge, only how the project is to be built.