The Court of Appeals of Iowa has agreed with a Linn County District Court judge and has dismissed a request by the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter for judicial review of the long-planned, $200 million Highway 100 extension project from Edgewood Road NE west and south to Highway 30.
More litigation, including an appeal of Wednesday’s ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court, is to come and a lawsuit in federal court challenging the highway project’s environmental impact remains pending, Cedar Rapids attorney Wallace Taylor, who is representing the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter, said on Wednesday.
The appellate court concluded, as did the District Court, that the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter failed to first seek administrative remedies with the Iowa Department of Transportation and that, in any event, the highway project remains a proposed project and so is not yet “ripe” for judicial review.
The appellate review is of a district court dismissal of the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter’s case that is about a year old, and since then, in June 2012, the Iowa Transportation Commission put more than $186 million in its 2013-2017 Transportation Improvement Program to fund most of the project. The entire eight-mile project could be completed in 2019, assuming funding is continued and extended.
Sierra Club attorney Taylor said he will appeal at least one part of the appeals court’s ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court. At issue, he said, is whether the DOT or the court should decide if the DOT complied with two state statutes that require the agency to take into consideration environmental issues when they design and locate a highway.
“To me, it is absurd to allow the DOT to decide if they complied with the statute or not,” Taylor said.
On a second issue, he said it remains unclear when the “ripe” time arrives to seek judicial review, but he doubted that he needed to wait until actual construction starts to begin again in Linn County District Court to ask the District Court for a project review based on the certainty of the project.
He noted that the DOT already has signed off on the highway’s alignment and has funding in place to begin to purchase property for the right of way.
The lawsuit represents an effort to stop the Highway 100 extension project on the premise that it will harm state nature preserve land and county nature preserve land. The project — which has been supported by local elected officials and local economic development entities for a decade — has been delayed for a number of years as the DOT has worked to study and then to lessen the impact of the highway’s alignment on nature preserve land.
In 2002, the Linn County Conservation Board accepted a donation of land from private property owners opposed to the highway project to add to the long-established Rock Island Botanical Preserve. The donated land sits in the way of the highway alignment, which the DOT changed to move it further away from the long-established, state-sanctioned part of the preserve. It is off 42nd Street NE west of Xavier High School.