Judge re-affirms 2004 Circ Highway ruling

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(Host) A federal judge has once again scolded the Douglas Administration for failing to conduct a thorough environmental review of the proposed Circumferential Highway in Chittenden County.

Democrats are trying to use the court ruling to score some political points.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Politics have long been part of the Circ Highway debate.

In 2002, when candidate Jim Douglas was running for governor, the Bush Administration promised to put the road on a fast track.

But a federal judge in 2004 said the state and federal officials had failed to conduct a detailed environmental review as the law required.

Judge William Sessions has now re-affirmed that ruling. And Democrats say the Douglas Administration deserves some of the blame for the long delay.

(Parker) “That strategy has backfired.”

(Dillon) Scudder Parker is running for governor on the Democratic ticket. He says Douglas’s attempt to put the highway on a fast track ended up with a dead end in court.

He says Douglas rejected attempts to negotiate with environmentalists who oppose the road.

(Parker) “So what was offered as a kind of a clever, Washington style deal resulted in no progress for this part of Vermont.”

(Dillon) Parker questions whether Neal Lunderville, Douglas’s top political aide, helped arrange for the White House favor that was supposed to help the highway.

Lunderville, who was just appointed to he3ad the Transportation Agency, says Parker gives him way too much credit for influence.

(Lunderville) “The accusation that Parker makes is really unfounded on several levels.”

(Dillon) Lunderville says the fast track process was not designed to by-pass environmental review. It was just supposed to make it go faster.

(Lunderville) “What we need to focus on now is to make sure the analysis that is going on now as we speak is thorough, is technically complete and when we reach a record decision which we expect by late winter or early spring next year, at that time we can have a resolution of this project and we can get moving.”

(Dillon) Douglas has said the highway is needed for economic development.

The project is now undergoing an environmental impact review and Parker says he’ll support whatever the analysis shows is the best solution to improving the region’s transportation network.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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