posted Apr 16, 2012, 5:40 PM by Friends of Hurricane Creek   [ updated May 21, 2012, 8:00 AM ]
Eastern Bypass comments of John L. Wathen
To FHWA Lynn Urquhart,
ALDOT L. Dee Rowe

    Please accept the following comments on behalf of John L. Wathen, resident of Holt. I am a taxpaying citizen of the state of Alabama. My comments herein do not reflect the opinion of any organization I am employed by or represent in any way.
    I am appalled at the blatant disregard ALDOT has shown the citizens of the Holt community. Holt has an overwhelmingly disproportionate poverty level making the position of the Eastern Bypass a prime example of environmental injustice. The Federal Highway Administration must consider the potential for litigation on this subject before committing millions of dollars of taxpayer funds.
    The latest ALDOT hearing / dog and pony show, was scheduled after the Jan. 31st comment period ended. ALDOT rescheduled another hearing due to complaints that all residents in the impacted corridor were unable to get to the Northport meting. ALDOT director sent word that another hearing would be scheduled and continued the comment period until the Jan. 31 deadline. When no hearing happened, I complained to ALDOT about the broken promises of the director. Then magically another hearing was scheduled AFTER the Jan 31 deadline, and the comment period that was CLOSED was also magically reopened. The problem with the new hearing is that it was intentionally scheduled during Spring Break when many residents were out of town. The notice was a small clip that was unnoticed by many. Although ALDOT claimed the notice went out on the air over radio and TV, no one at ALDOT could remember which stations it was on when questioned. 
    It should be noted by FHWA that a vast majority of this project lies in the “Police Jurisdiction” where the residents cannot vote for or against the city politicians who proposed this and now stand to condemn property under imminent domain if owners refuse to sell. This is a huge injustice and should be examined by the FHWA or the federal courts. I would be in favor of a class action lawsuit to block this project as it is drawn now.
    No current traffic statistics exist to support this project. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s needs and weigh them against the cost using current traffic projections and accurate costs involved.
    The corridor is not conducive to traffic reduction as it is portrayed. Instead, it is a development corridor designed to enhance profits of a few developers. Every exit lands on property where the owners stand to make huge profits at the cost of our community. One of which was appointed to the Governors advisory seats on road development. 
    Holt was devastated by the tornado of Apr. 27th 2011. We were still reeling from the destruction when ALDOT came in offering these battered residents pennies on the dollar for properties in its path. Case in point…
    7 years ago Ron Hensley offered Browns Nursery $275,000,00 for the 2 acres it owned on Crescent Ridge Road at that time. Now ALDOT has gone back to Brown and offered only $75,000.00 for the now 6 acres owned in the same location. The offer went from over $130,000.00 per acre to $12,000.00 per acre for 4 more acres of commercial land with 4 septic tanks, running water, and electricity. Brown’s 6 acres of commercial land is worth only $75.000.00 according to ALDOT but across the street another person was paid $60,000.00 for 1/2 acre making his worth $120,000.00 per acre. These figures are not consistent and absolutely not what was in the original EIS. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s needs and weigh them against the huge cost of residential displacement and relocation. Here again, there is an overwhelming case for injustice. 
    Every resident who will be displaced by the bypass should receive the maximum value as by independent appraisers and not ALDOT’s internal personnel. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) should review all appraisals. All residents in the corridor are entitled to their day in court over these injustices and I will encourage them all to act accordingly. 
    In the original EIS the figures are extremely low-balled by today’s figures. According to ALDOT, the average mean income of all displaced residents to be only $20,000.00. The cost per displaced resident has grown exponentially every year since the EIS was completed. The cost projections by ALDOT Div. 5 are not current or correct. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s costs and decide if expense is worth the tradeoff to Holt for the profits of a few. 
    Significant changes have occurred in the Hurricane Creek watershed since the original EIS was completed. A TMDL is in place now for the entire watershed which effects 90% of the corridor. Every stream crossing after Crescent Ridge Road is in a segment recognized by EPA and ADEM as a “Stream of Significance”. All BMP plans will have to exceed anything I have seen in the current drawings of ALDOT will be facing constant enforcement action, litigation, and civil complaints when the mud begins to flow from the project. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s costs and then decide if the expense is worth the tradeoff. The corridor lies in a region of the creek still stressed by development, poor planning, and poor road building by local companies.
    I have spent many years documenting ALDOT’s failures and pointing out discrepancies in the EIS. In all of those years I have never seen a single ALDOT project that met with storm-water regulations. In fact many in Alabama see ALDOT as the single worst source of storm-water pollution in the state. I see no reason to believe they can pull off a 5 lane interstate through this sensitive area without causing major offsite impacts to the creek as well as personal property downstream. I personally intend to hold them accountable in the courts if necessary to minimize and mitigate those impacts.
    No cost figures have been released to show how much the Corps of Engineer permitting and surveys will cost. Every segment of disturbance must be mitigated. The current plan for that is in Sipsey River. That mitigation needs to occur here in the watershed of impact, Hurricane Creek. A perfect SEP location would be the “M” Bend Park owned by Tuscaloosa PARA. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s costs. 
    The Park at “M” Bend is not recognized by ALDOT but is in fact a public park and has been in use as such for a long time now. Please find enclosed, a PDF photo document of this fact. (Photos seen below.)

    ALDOT must complete a new EIS to reflect this fact and reroute the corridor. A new EIS should be completed in its entirety to reflect today’s costs. 
    This is a comment period for the “re-evaluation” of the EIS but no documentation of any changes has been made available to the public. How can the people comment and have a part in the process if changes and documentation of the changes are not made public? ALDOT has an obligation to the taxpayers of Alabama to be completely transparent and forthright with all data used to decide how federal funds are allocated. FHWA has an obligation to make sure ALDOT has given an accurate accounting of those funds. 
    Before any work can be initiated on the ground for this project, all of the federal requirements for funding must be met, It is my opinion that ALDOT has not only failed to perform as required by federal law but has intentionally participated in a willful campaign of misinformation against the taxpayers of Alabama and in fact all of America since this is funded in majority by federal tax dollars.