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November 15, 2018

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9th Circuit rejects bid to halt Reno-Sparks bypass road

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Scott Sonner / AP

In this Oct. 16, 2015, photo, downtown Reno is seen as a truck passes a crane in southeast Reno on a construction access road to a stretch of a new six-lane bypass road, planned to connect east Sparks and south Reno. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the latest attempt to halt construction of the major road bypass project under construction on the edge of Reno.

RENO — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday rejected the latest attempt by a group of Nevada citizens to halt construction of a major bypass being built on the edge of Reno.

The appellate court in San Francisco issued a three-paragraph ruling denying a request for a preliminary injunction ordering suspension of work on the $290 million "Southeast Connector."

A lawyer for the Upper Southeast Communities Coalition argued before the 9th Circuit last month that the final phase of the six-lane road connecting south Reno to east Sparks could increase flood danger in nearby neighborhoods, harm sensitive wetlands and spread mercury contamination from historic mining.

A federal judge in Sacramento earlier refused to grant a similar injunction based on the alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The three-judge appellate panel upheld that ruling Monday, saying it has the authority to reverse the district court "only where it relied on an erroneous legal premise or abused its discretion."

It noted that the rejection of the request for an injunction does not necessarily mean the critics would not prevail if they were to continue to argue the case on its merits in district court.

The Regional Transportation Commission touts the connector as a necessary tool to alleviate congestion where Interstate 80 intersects I-580 and U.S. Highway 395 east of downtown Reno.

The citizens group argued the Army Corps of Engineers and the commission failed to sufficiently analyze the potential harm of the project in the environmental reviews they conducted under NEPA.

Coalition lawyer Winter King said after Monday's ruling the group was "considering its options going forward."

"We are obviously disappointed with the 9th Circuit's ruling and continue to believe the Corps violated federal law in approving the Southeast Connector project," King said.

Reno City Councilwoman Neoma Jardon confirmed that work on the project continued as scheduled, the Reno Gazette-Journal first reported on Monday.

"Yet another court has affirmed the merits and sound environmental science behind the Southeast Connector," said Jardon, chairwoman of the Regional Transportation Commission.

The project first was proposed in the 1950s. The federal agency and the transportation commission maintain they obtained all the necessary permits for the second phase of the project that's been underway since June and is scheduled to be completed in December 2017.

Coalition lawyers argue that no environmental impact statement was prepared despite the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "repeatedly raised concerns about the project's potential mercury impacts on nearby aquatic systems."

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