Bridge to infiltration

Group seeks to join, disjoint anti-bridge lawsuit filed by River Fields

May 25, 2011 at 5:00 am

Kentuckians for Progress, a group formed earlier this year to advance the beleaguered Ohio River Bridges Project, has revealed that its legal strategy is to effect the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by local conservation group River Fields and the National Trust for Historic Preservation against the Federal Highway Administration, which approved the project in 2003.

The slow-going suit, filed in September 2009 on the eve of a six-year statutory deadline, remains a major obstacle to the $4.1 billion project, which encompasses the construction of an eastern bridge, a downtown span and the expansion of Spaghetti Junction.

For months outside the court system, KFP sought public pressure for the co-plaintiffs to drop the federal suit.

But on May 12, KFP filed a motion to join the fray, arguing “the only participants at present are self-proclaimed conservationists and preservationists opposed to the Project on ... (likely personal) grounds and federal bureaucrats who are well-intentioned but have little or no personal stake in the Project” — at least compared to KFP’s members.

The members of Kentuckians for Progress are Rebecca Jackson, former Jefferson County judge executive; David Nicklies, developer and former Bridges Coalition chairman; Bill Schreck, a former Metro Louisville codes and regulations director; United Auto Workers Local 862; the Indiana-Kentucky Regional Council of Carpenters Local 64; Allan Parnell, president of a Southern Indiana trucking company; and Don Scheer, former owner of Chick Inn restaurant on eastern River Road.

The motion is extraordinary in that KFP seeks to intervene as a co-defendant instead of as a co-plaintiff.

It criticizes the Federal Highway Administration’s representation of KFP’s interests as “inadequate.”

And there’s plenty of criticism for River Fields in the motion: “The plaintiffs’ purpose is plain and simple: stop the East End Bridge by any means.”

While sprawl — the shift of development and resources from downtown to the East End — is sometimes cited as River Fields’ best argument against the eastern bridge, the motion casts it as a shroud for selfishness: “River Fields purports to be concerned about the economic well-being of minority and low-income citizens, not merely the view from river bluff estate verandas.”

In an interview Monday morning with WHAS Radio’s Mandy Connell, attorney Vic Maddox, who co-wrote the motion, echoed KFP’s claim that River Fields’ strategy is to delay and obstruct through litigation.

By court order, all deadlines in the case have been delayed pending a study officials hope to complete within a year. KFP claims the study is unwarranted and that the lawsuit is “designed to require even more environmental impact studies,” Maddox said.

“If we are allowed to participate, we will then be part of the mediation process, which is under way … One of the things we would like to do is to take discovery about just exactly who is River Fields? What are their goals? And if we can, seek to have the lawsuit dismissed for any number of reasons, including the fact that we think that River Fields doesn’t have standing to bring the lawsuit.”

Yet he doesn’t expect to win a seat at the table absent a battle royal. “I’ll almost guarantee you that River Fields will oppose the motion for Kentuckians for Progress to actually join the lawsuit,” Maddox told Connell.

In any event, the case pits Maddox against another local titan, River Fields’ Bob Griffith, of the multi-state Stites & Harbison, the largest law firm in Kentucky. Maddox, of Fultz, Maddox, Hovious & Dickens — whose partners include political author and analyst John David Dyche — made news last year as one among six presidential nominees the U.S. Senate confirmed to the board of the Legal Services Corp., which represents low-income citizens in civil suits.

Apart from the pending suit, the controversial project has been beset by assorted complications including a lack of state and federal funding, a nationwide recession, public opposition to tolling, and escalating costs.

Officials routinely refer to the project as “a federal priority.” But last October, an application for a $135 million federal grant was denied. A year ago, the project’s bi-state authority sought guidance from the FHWA as to which infrastructure could be tolled. The eligibilities remain a mystery.

Last November, LEO asked FHWA spokeswoman Nancy Singer: “Are you aware of any initiative, request or effort to delay the decision?”

Her answer: “No.”