The Ahwatukee-based group fighting against the South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway is not settling down now that the comment period is over on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the freeway. They’re gearing up with more events and informational meetings hoping to bring more awareness to people in Ahwatukee to the problems the freeway presents.
Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children (PARC) submitted 318 pages of substantive comments to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) during its open comment period, which ended July 24. Now that comments have been submitted it’s a waiting game.
ADOT will need to review all the comments received from the public and respond to them in their Final Draft Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which they expect to release in 2014. After that they’ll use the FEIS to receive a record of decision from the federal government before construction can begin. Only once an FEIS is released will groups like PARC have an opportunity to bring litigation against ADOT, if ADOT has not followed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rules, and stall or potentially stop the process.
So far, members of PARC are convinced ADOT has not followed correct NEPA procedures. They’re ready to take the case to court, but the case is expected to cost more than $500,000. That’s why they’re using the next year until the FEIS is released to educate as many people as possible and to raise money.
“There are an incredible amount of people in Ahwatukee who still don’t know what’s going on or are so ambivalent that they have given up and are saying, ‘This freeway is going to happen,’” said Pat Lawlis, PARC president. “We need to get the word out to them that in fact this freeway does not need to happen. We have all the ammunition we need to make sure it doesn’t. What they need to do is give us the support we need.”
PARC has already spent $100,000 hiring experts to examine the DEIS. Their experts, who are both local and national, claim ADOT did not use appropriate models or figures, and completely ignored some vital steps in the NEPA process. Those experts will need to be paid again to review the FEIS or any supplemental reports that ADOT may release.
Once the group goes to court there will be legal fees and attorney fees to worry about, Lawlis said. PARC has hired Howard Shanker to represent them in court.
“At the time this FEIS comes out it will be too late to raise the funds we need,” Lawlis said. “We need to raise money now so we have the war chest ready.”
PARC is hosting an informational meeting at the Club West HOA Clubhouse, 16400 S. 14th Ave., on Tuesday, Aug. 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. The meeting is not purely a fundraiser.
The purpose is to educate the public that the freeway can be stopped through the NEPA process and that experts have already found several fatal flaws to ADOT’s report. All that PARC needs to carry out its plan is support from the public.
“We will spend a lot of time discussing the results from our experts,” Lawlis said. “We want to be sure that message gets out as far and wide as possible. Given that kind of knowledge throughout Ahwatukee we feel sure that we’ll get more pockets loosened.”
PARC also has plans for a booth at the Festival of Lights. The group recently joined the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce. A concert or run may be organized in the future as well to remain in the public eye.
“It’s really about public confidence at this point,” Lawlis said. “We need to let people know that we are a viable organization and we can stop the Loop 202.”
For more information on the South Mountain Freeway, visit southmountainfreeway.com.