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Save The Trail Group Considering Court Challenge Over Purple Line

By Aaron Kraut

Tuesday - 3/25/2014, 2:30pm  ET

Save The Trail activists, against the Purple Line light rail, at an August 2013 event announcing state funding for the projectA group against building the Purple Line on the existing Capital Crescent Trail in Chevy Chase says it is considering  a court challenge of the Federal Transit Administration’s decision to sign on to the project.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail said it is joining with other “non-profit public interest organizations” to mull over a legal response to the FTA’s Record of Decision, which state transit officials said was signed last week.

The Record of Decision (ROD) is important because it finalizes any environmental mitigation the Maryland Transit Administration and a private concessionaire would be required to build as part of the 16-mile, $2.37 billion light rail. It allows the MTA to begin buying right-of-way and condemning property along the route.

It’s also an indicator that the $900 million of federal money the state wants for the project is forthcoming. The MTA hopes to start construction on the light rail in 2015 and open it in 2020.

The Town of Chevy Chase has also not ruled out a legal challenge of the Purple Line’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The Town is officially opposed to the light rail and approved a contract in February of $350,000 to fight it at the state and federal levels.

Part of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail’s claim is that the Purple Line as described in the FEIS would destroy the forested area around the Trail and undercut county environmental law:

“Dedicating $2.4 billion – a price tag that has more than doubled since the Purple Line’s conception — to destroy irreplaceable parkland directly undercuts significant investment by taxpayer funded community programs to mitigate storm water runoff by storing and harvesting rainwater as well asexisting Montgomery County Conservation Laws and the pending Cost of Carbon Bill of Councilmember Roger Berliner,” added Jim Roy, a realtor familiar with local policies and communities.  “This in turn invites questions as to whether the government is acting as a responsible fiscal and environmental steward, or is simply in thrall to the considerable and self-promoting investments development companies have put into the advancement of the Purple Line,” said Roy.

“Issuing the Record of Decision without taking a hard look at environmental factors and mitigation – details that should have been in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) – is irresponsible and ultimately turns over environmental safety and protection of endangered species and their habitat to a for-profit entity now beholden to a lesser standard than that required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, among other laws” said Ajay Bhatt.

Bhatt is president of the group.

Although the FTA’s ROD issuance indicates a supposed environmental review milestone, the fight to save the Capital Crescent Trail is absolutely not over. Unless Congress approves the $100 million in the Presidential budget and the Full Funding Grant Agreement is signed with the federal government, Maryland will not be guaranteed federal dollars and cannot afford to break ground. Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and other non-profit public interest organizations are considering challenging the FTA’s decision in court.  FCCT will energize its grass-roots base to preserve the environment and the regional treasure that is the Capital Crescent Trail.

The ROD is expected to be released Friday in the Federal Register.