Supreme Court halts Sierra Club's attempt to block Highway 100 extension

Court says Sierra Club must seek DOT review first

Rick Smith
Published: June 7 2013 | 1:30 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 4:17 pm in
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The long-delayed Highway 100 extension project now has secured a coveted spot on the Iowa Transportation Commission’s five-year construction funding plan, and pre-construction work on the $200-million project has begun.

Even so, the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter continues with litigation in state and federal court to stop the project because the environmental group says it will harm nature preserves.

On Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court set back the club’s lawsuit in state court.

In a ruling published on Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court concluded that a provision of state law requires the Sierra Club to first ask the Iowa Department of Transportation to review the agency’s decision to construct the 7.5-milelong Highway 100 extension near the state-sanctioned Rock Island Botanical Preserve and through a donated piece of land added to the preserve as the highway project was preparing to be built.

Only after the state agency administrative review can the Sierra Club seek action in state court to stop the project, the Iowa Supreme Court concluded in its ruling on Friday.

Wally Taylor, the Sierra Club’s attorney in Cedar Rapids, on Friday called it "ridiculous" that he needs to ask the state agency to review its own decision before he seeks redress in state court.

Taylor said he now may ask the Iowa Supreme Court to reconsider its decision or he may seek the DOT administrative review and see if that is successful.

In its ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected Taylor’s argument that a state agency can’t conduct an administrative review as set out in state law to review its own decisions.

"For more than 35 years, agencies in this state have decided many issues within their purview," the court’s ruling states. "We have no evidence to suggest agencies will conduct declaratory order proceedings in a biased, unprofessional manner and without regard for the rules promulgated by the legislature.

"… As one court aptly noted, (c) ourts should not lightly assume the futility of a party’s pursuing an administrative remedy; instead, it is to be assumed that the administrative process, if given the opportunity, will discover and correct its errors.’"

Taylor said the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter continues its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District in Des Moines seeking a summary judgment there to stop the Highway 100 extension project.

Preconstruction work, including moving a turtle pond away from the new highway alignment, is under way on the highway project.

This fall, the DOT will bid for a project to build a culvert to allow turtles and other animals to cross under the highway and to clear sections of right of way to prepare for highway grading.

The DOT plans to seek bids in January and March 2014 to build the highway extension’s bridge over the Cedar River and to do grading associated with the bridge and roadbed, the DOT reported on Friday.

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