by Elliott Stonecipher
The use of the word “Dismissed” tends to evoke certain negative reactions in court cases, at least for one side in such battles. But, the Finish 3132 Coalition feels only positive and encouraged about this afternoon’s decision from the U. S. District Court in the matter of Shreveport’s Hwy. 3132 Extension.
In its federal suit filed last year, the Coalition sued the local transportation planning agency, Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments (NLCOG), and the state and federal highway departments. The suit was filed to remedy a list of defects in the process used by these agencies as it relates to the chance of someday completing the 3132 Extension to the Port of Caddo-Bossier.
Although Coalition attorneys have not had the time required to fully analyze today’s rulings, what is very clear and most important is contained in these few words in the Court’s “Conclusion” of the decisions, one each for NLCOG and the two highway departments:
“… DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE (emphasis from and by the Court). Plantiffs are free to reurge their complaint following a final federal action. Essentially, Plaintiffs claims are premature.”
From the inception of the lawsuit, Coalition attorneys have been very clear about a key question: can the federal court rule to protect the conduct and substance of the feasibility studies for the 3132 Extension before – or must it be after – completion of the determinative Stage 1 study? To be on the safe side, our attorneys filed once the errors and manipulations in the predecessor Stage 0 study were identified and verified. The wording above, “following a final federal action” refers directly to the completion of the Stage 1 study.
The contract for its conduct was signed three weeks ago, on July 10th. The study is expected to take eighteen months.
The Court’s decision is as clear in what it did not say as in what it did. The Court could have read the content of the Coalition’s case, rejected those arguments, and dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, rejecting our case. Such very clearly is not the opinion of the Court.
The Coalition will be involved in all appropriate ways in the Stage 1 study, working just as it has for the past three-plus years to bring into the open the route corridor options for a 3132 Extension which were deliberately withheld from the public in the Stage 0 study, and its two defective and failed public hearings.
Should the problems which are the basis of our federal lawsuit remain at the conclusion of the study, we will take the federal court up on its willingness to then consider the substance of our arguments.
The company conducting the Stage 1 study, Burk-Kleinpeter, Inc., is new to the process, and may certainly respond to the Coalition’s concerns during and within its work. Such is decidedly the hope of the Coalition.
Finish 3132 Coalition