Lawsuit filed to stop port

Lawsuit filed to stop port

By EVAN JONES Special to The Messenger One of the landowners facing condemnation of her property for the Cates Landing river port has filed a federal lawsuit to stop the port, citing a lack of environmental studies. The lawsuit was filed by Ann Jonas and her attorney, Gary A. Davis, on May 7 and names Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army; Col. Thomas P. Smith, chief engineer of the Corps of Engineers Memphis District; Jimmy Williamson, chief executive officer of the Northwest Tennessee Port Authority; and Macie Roberson, county mayor of Lake County, as defendants. Jonas, a former Lake Countian now living in Birmingham, Ala., owns 209 acres that has been taken possession of by Lake County through condemnation and also owns an additional 500 acres the suit states “would be directly and substantially impacted by the development of the project.” She is represented by attorney Gary A. Davis of Hot Springs, N.C. The suit seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction stopping the Port Authority from “further planning, financing, contracting, property acquisition and construction.” Some initial construction had been under way within the port “footprint” in the Jolly Landing area, but the Mississippi has been well above flood stage since February, slowing work to a crawl. The grounds of the lawsuit are very similar to those used by a coalition of resort owners who stopped a TWRA drawdown of Reelfoot Lake in federal court in 1985 by seeking to have a full-blown EIS done. U.S. District Judge Odell Horton ruled in their favor at that time. No hearing date has been set and this case will likely be heard in U.S. District Court in Memphis before Judge Samuel H. Mays Jr. Williamson said he just received the suit last week and that it would likely be 30 days before any hearing could be held. Since the Department of the Army and the Corps of Engineers are named in the suit, the Justice Department will likely be involved. Williamson said John Lannom, who has been representing the Port Authority for several years, will also be involved. The suit seems to center around the planners and backers of the port’s decision to do an Environmental Assessment (EA) as opposed to a more extensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The suit claims the defendants “failed to comply with and have planned the design, construction and property acquisition for the project in violation of the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) … by preparing an inadequate and erroneous Environmental Assessment (EA), by failing to prepare and circulate for public view an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concerning the project and by making arbitrary and capricious Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the project contrary to the information and data available.” Technically, Lake County is already in possession of the land of the four landowners involved in the condemnation process. The four parties could request a trial in Lake County Circuit Court with a jury deciding the value of the land in question but, so far, that has not happened. “We have been jumping through hoops on this project for about 10 years,” said Williamson when contacted by phone this week. “I would be surprised if they (the Corps of Engineers) did not do it right the first time. We went to great effort to coordinate with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, historical commission and more on this project from the very beginning and they all signed off (after completing studies) on it.” The final EA was approved on Aug. 13, 2004, and the Finding of No Significant Impact was also approved on that date. The suit alleges that TDEC and EPA have designated the stretch of the Mississippi River where the port would be located as having impaired water quality due to contamination by PCBs and chlordane due to dredging of contaminated sediments. The suit also notes the nearby location of Reelfoot Lake and the various designations that body of water has, including Class I Scenic Recreational Area, Outstanding National Resource Water and a Wildlife Management Area and National Wildlife Refuge. The suit charges that as many as 3,000 acres of privately owned farmland could be taken by eminent domain by the industrial park portion of the project. It also alleges the defendants did not prepare an EIS “in order to save time and money. The EA did not assess the impacts of industries that would locate in the industrial park, including air pollution, water pollution and solid and hazardous waste impacts,” the suit states. Lake County, on behalf of the port authority, began eminent domain proceedings to take a portion of the plaintiff’s property on Nov. 5, 2007. Williamson said until the hearing, everything associated with the port remains ongoing. “This has no impact to stop things right now,” he said. “Until a judge rules on the injunction, nothing can be done. “I think we got a pretty good case.” ——— Editor’s note: Evan Jones is editor of the Lake County Banner. Published in The Messenger 5.30.08

Leave a Comment