Cover Story: Monroe Bypass controversy

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Monroe Bypass - a faster route to the beach, but could it be in question over questionable data?

The bypass is a 20-mile toll road the state is planning stretching from Indian Trail around Monroe almost to Marshville.

It'll bypass a nasty stretch of Highway 74 and shave close to half an hour off the beach drive.

But for months, environmental groups have been getting vocal about this.  They claimed road planners misled us about the expressway's impact on wildlife.

One federal agency wants to know whether the nature lovers are actually onto something.

Environmentalists are alleging the state went off false data to produce a crucial document (an environmental impact study) that the Monroe Bypass needs to move forward.

A federal agency now wants to look at how that study came together - and it's raising questions about the toll road.

Could an endangered mussel be keeping motorists from the beach?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is raising questions about whether the North Carolina Turnpike Authority did an accurate study of how building the Monroe Bypass would affect the environment.

Fish and Wildlife is involved because the Carolina heelsplitter is involved, the heelsplitter a federally protected shellfish found in the area.

Three environmental groups are suing the state in federal court in Raleigh saying the state went off false data to produce an environmental impact study that the Monroe Bypass needs to move forward.

They allege the environmental impact study didn't properly consider the impact that building the road would have.

Since Fish and Wildlife signed off on the study, it how has questions it wants answered.

"This is about going back to the drawing board and looking at what the real impacts of this project are," said Chandra Taylor, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center based in Chapel Hill.

For its part, the Turnpike Authority's Reid Simons says the state stands by the study and does not plan a detailed new review, but is willing to talk with Fish and Wildlife officials to answer any questions.

Simons says Fish and Wildlife has not withdrawn its approval.

"They did not withdraw their permit and they are just requesting clarification of information.  They're not reconsidering their approval of this project at all."

Environmentalists are asking US District Court Judge James Dever to halt the Bypass project and demand a new environmental impact study.

All the legal briefs have been filed in the lawsuit.  The federal judge in Raleigh has indicated he will make a ruling before October 1.

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