Sandpoint bypass gets July start
June 3, 2008
Construction of the controversial Sand Creek Byway – a project that's been in planning for half a century – could begin within weeks, even as opponents fight to further delay construction.
Bids will be opened today and crews could begin work on the budgeted $85 million project soon after the Fourth of July holiday, Idaho Transportation Department spokeswoman Barbara Babic said.
Meanwhile, the North Idaho Community Action Network and the Concerned Sandpoint Businesses Association are fighting the 2.1 mile bypass, which would route Highway 95 traffic off Sandpoint's city streets.
The byway would cross Sand Creek, a Lake Pend Oreille tributary, and require dredging and filling parts of the creek. Opponents are concerned about the environmental and aesthetic impacts.
"Our primary objective always has been wanting the state to look at other opportunities and other alternatives that don't require filling 11 acres of Sand Creek and building a wall literally up the middle of Sand Creek for 1,800 feet," said Pierre Bordenave, spokesman for the Sandpoint business group. "Sandpoint's going to be looking at a 30-foot wall for 1,800 feet."
The group has filed a challenge to the state Department of Environmental Quality's permit for the project. A hearing is scheduled for next week.
Meanwhile, the North Idaho Community Action Network is seeking an injunction to stall the project until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules on an appeal in a suit the network filed against the Transportation Department and the Federal Highway Administration.
Another suit – challenging the Army Corps of Engineers permit for the project – is pending in federal court.
"We expect a favorable ruling from the 9th Circuit," said Liz Sedler, the community action network's executive director. "That will push the project back."
Bordenave said he doubts the project will start when transportation officials say it will.
"For four years we've heard that the project's going to start next spring, next fall, next winter, next spring, next fall, next winter," he said.
Babic said the state agency has all the needed permits and approval to move forward, though.
As the start date nears, Babic said, the department will have a better idea of what kind of traffic delays might be expected.
Once work begins, Babic said, there will be weekly public meetings to provide the public with updates.
An information office has been open in Sandpoint for the past seven years, and Babic said the Transportation Department will keep that office open during construction.
Anyone with questions on the project can visit the office at 202 N. Second St. or call (208) 265-0897.