4/19/2017Bumblebee Blocks Illinois Toll Road Construction
US district judge calls a halt to toll road construction over the potential to annoy bumblebees.
A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked the groundbreaking for a new Illinois toll road project over a bee. US District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman issued a directive ordering Kane County to stop work on the Longmeadow Parkway Bridge toll road, a planned 5.6 mile route crossing the Fox River, pending further court proceedings at the end of the month.
Construction crews were sent home Monday, stopping the project's first phase, which involved widening an existing road. An anti-road expansion group calling itself Stop Longmeadow secured the temporary restraining order by arguing any new stretch of asphalt might disturb the rusty patched bumblebee, which was added to the endangered species list less than one month ago.
"This court finds that the balance of harms weighs in favor of the plaintiffs and against the public's interest in reduced traffic congestion," Judge Coleman ruled.
Officials with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), represented by US Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers, were outraged at the activist group's sneaky tactic of filing a 249 page motion a day before Easter. Judge Coleman approved it on Easter Monday, even though federal law typically requires a deliberative process and a sixty-day consultation period before an endangered species act suit can be brought.
"Stop Longmeadow waited until the eleventh-hour -- indeed, past the eleventh hour, filing their complaint on a Saturday of a holiday weekend -- to demand that this court enjoin activities set to begin on Monday, April 17, 2017," DOJ attorney Emily M. Meeker wrote on FHWA's behalf. "Stop Longmeadow has submitted a bare-bones declaration from one individual asserting purported harm that she speculates may occur to the bee, but which are not borne out by the facts on the ground."
Federal officials argued the construction halt was wholly unnecessary because work near the Brunner Family Forest Preserve, where the bees are supposedly gathered, was not scheduled to begin until September. Stop Longmeadow countered that local officials pursued the tolling project in spite of overwhelming public opposition to the idea, as measured by ballot question posed in March 2016.
"Shall officials in municipalities in Dundee Township including Carpentersville, West Dundee, East Dundee, Sleepy Hollow, Algonquin, and Barrington Hills oppose the $100,000,000 Longmeadow Toll Way that bisects the Brunner public forest preserve, due to air, noise, and water pollution and negative impacts to property values?" the advisory measure asked.
Over 72 percent of Dundee Township voters rejected the tolling plan long before the idea of preserving bees entered the picture. Critics of adding the rusty patch bumblebee to the endangered species list point out that the bumblebee's problems are related to an outbreak of a fungal disease, not road construction, and that the designation will be used by "not in my backyard" groups to thwart road building in thirteen states.