Permit lawsuit dismissed

Friends of Justice Center leader challenged wetlands decision

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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to grant a wetlands permit for the Routt County Judicial Facility.

On Wednesday, Townsend Anderson, leader of the Friends of the Justice Center, personally filed a lawsuit in United States District Court against the Army Corps and the Board of Routt County Commissioners.

In his lawsuit, Anderson said the Army Corps violated the Clean Air Act by issuing the permit for the judicial facility west of town when there was a practicable alternative to build the center downtown, which would have had no adverse effect on the aquatic ecosystem or environment.

Anderson also asked for an injunction preventing the county from continuing work on the justice center. The county is doing earthwork on the courthouse site now, and county officials hope to put the construction project out to bid in August.

The day after Anderson filed his lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Blackburn denied Anderson's motion for an injunction and dismissed the case.

In his dismissal order, Blackburn wrote that Townsend had not proved the injury caused by the Army Corps decision was "particularized," or in other words, an injury directly to the plaintiff and not the environment.

"Instead, he claims merely that the proposed construction will harm the affected wetlands and adversely impact the economy and dynamics of downtown Steamboat Springs," the order stated. "Such general, non-particularized injuries are not sufficient to confer standing on plaintiff to prosecute this lawsuit. Plaintiff, therefore, has failed to prove the existence of a justifiable case or controversy."

On Monday, county commissioners said that they were not surprised by Anderson's lawsuit and that they were happy with the judge's ruling.

"We are pleased with Judge Blackburn's dismissal," Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said. "We have the opportunity to continue to move forward and provide adequate facilities to Routt County."

County officials hope that physical construction of the $15 million, 52,000 square-foot justice center will begin late this summer. With an 18-month timeframe, county officials hope to finish the justice center by late 2006.

Anderson could not be reached for comment, but in his lawsuit, he said the Army Corps decision agreed that the downtown site would be less environmentally damaging and would meet the basic purpose and need of the applicant's project.

He also alleged that the Army Corps relied on a nonbinding standard -- security setback standards in the Interagency Security Committee's Security Standards for Leased Space -- to declare the site impracticable.

"The Corps does not require it as a condition of the permit, and it ignores all the other standards in the document. The Corps has arbitrarily selected one standard from a document that does not legally apply to the proposed project to declare a heretofore practicable alternative impracticable," the lawsuit reads.

Anderson asked that the judge issue a judgment that the county and Army Corps violated the Clean Air Act, issue an injunction prohibiting the county from doing further construction under the Army Corps permit and issue an injunction prohibiting the county from providing any funds or taking any other action toward the construction of the justice center.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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