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Sporting and Environmental Groups Argue in U.S. Court of Appeals for Right To Challenge Shuster's Secret Rider in I-99 -- Bald Eagle Ridge Fight.

PHILADELPHIA, July 10 /PRNewswire/ --

Attorneys from Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), representing six sporting and environmental groups, today argued before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, urging reversal of the District Court's October 24, 2000 dismissal of the groups' lawsuit challenging the construction of I-99 on Bald Eagle Mountain. At issue is a secret rider attached by (now former) Rep. Bud Shuster's House Transportation Committee to a massive 1998 Appropriations bill which legalized wholesale violations of environmental laws for Shuster's pet highway project. The October court ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought by the groups, seeking to protect public safety and the environment from the devastation that would be created by construction of an eight-mile extension of the "Bud Shuster Highway" along the forested slopes of Bald Eagle Mountain.

The rider -- exempting the I-99 project from the environmental laws that apply to all other federal projects around the country -- was slipped into the 400-page Appropriations bill at the eleventh hour and passed without any debate. Indeed, most members of congress were not able to get a copy of the final bill before voting and so were probably unaware that the rider even existed. The rider came after natural resource agencies looked at this project and expressed concern that routing the highway through the large tract of undeveloped forest on Bald Eagle Mountain will cause needless destruction of valuable environmental resources and will violate federal environmental laws.

"This rider was an affront to the democratic process," said Amy Sinden, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "We are hopeful that the Court of Appeals will see it as such and reverse the ruling of the lower court."

PennFuture filed the lawsuit on February 1, 2000, on behalf of the Bald Eagle Ridge Protection Association (BERPA), the National Audubon Society, Pennsylvania Trout (a council of Trout Unlimited), the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsman's Clubs, the Pennsylvania Deer Association, and United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania. The defendants are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Brad Mallory, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The sporting and environmental groups filed the suit in an attempt to protect a large tract of undeveloped forest on Bald Eagle Ridge and to encourage the agencies to use an alternative route in the valley that would be safer, less environmentally destructive, and less expensive to build than the ridge route.

The groups are also calling for immediate attention to needed safety improvements on existing U.S. Route 220, onto which I-99 traffic is currently funneled. U.S. 220 is one of the most dangerous highways in central Pennsylvania with an accident fatality rate 171 percent above the statewide average. In their research on the stealth rider on I-99, the groups discovered that Congressman Shuster also received $40 million to distribute to local projects as he sees fit. Shuster received his personal funds (as did each of the other 74 members of the Transportation Committee and key House leaders) as part of the back room deals involved in pushing the Appropriations bill through. The plaintiff groups suggested that even a small fraction of Shuster's $40 million would have gone a long way toward funding safety improvements on Route 220.

More information on this case is available by contacting Attorney Amy Sinden at 215-569-9694.

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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Jul 10, 2001
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