The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected environmental activists’ arguments that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately address impact on wetlands when it issued permits for a recently completed section of Interstate 69 in southern Indiana.
The opinion in Hoosier Environmental Council and Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads v. United States Army Corps of Engineers and Indiana Department of Transportation, 12-3187, won’t do anything to slow future construction of I-69 between Evansville and Indianapolis. But the court also pointed out that just because the section of interstate south of Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center is finished, the litigation is not necessarily moot, as the state argued.
“A case is moot only if ‘it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for the panel. “One possibility for relief in this case would be an injunction requiring the defendants to rip up section 3 (of I-69) and recreate the wetlands it has destroyed. … That would be an extreme measure, unlikely to be ordered, but the fact that relief is unlikely does not render a case moot.”
Posner also penned acerbic words for plaintiffs who he said could have challenged the project more effectively earlier.
“We find almost incomprehensible the plaintiffs’ failure, which they do not mention in their briefs and were unable to explain at the oral argument, to have sought a preliminary injunction against the construction of section 3 — or indeed against the construction of any segment of the I-69 project,” he wrote. “A motion for a preliminary injunction might well have been denied, but the denial of a preliminary injunction is immediately appealable and would have brought the litigation to a swifter conclusion. By their lassitude the plaintiffs have increased substantially the cost of the relief they seek, for now that cost would include the cost of destroying section 3; and the cost of an injunction is a material consideration in whether to grant it.”
The panel affirmed the ruling of Judge Larry McKinney of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, who held that the Corps evaluated all of the wetland-protection factors required in its approval of a Clean Water Act permit for the recently completed section of the interstate.
“The plaintiffs argue neither that the project as a whole is contrary to the public interest nor that it was sectioned in order to prevent consideration of its total environmental harms,” Posner wrote. “They may be playing a delay game: make the Corps do a public interest analysis from the ground up … in the hope that at least until the analysis is completed there will be no further construction, so that until then the highway will end at the northernmost tip of section 3 — making it a road to nowhere.”