On Wednesday, October 12th, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel held a hearing on the Plaintiffs’ request in Fath et a. v. TxDOT and CTRMA to grant a preliminary injunction that would keep the CTRMA from cutting and ripping out the trees and other vegetation along the proposed SH 45 SW right of way in advance of initiating construction on the toll road. CTRMA officials told the court they would begin clearing the right of way on or about November 8th without an injunction.
The Plaintiffs, including SOS Alliance, former Austin Mayors Frank Cooksey and Carole Keeton, Texas music legend Jerry Jeff Walker, Save Barton Creek Assn, and others, seek to protect endangered species habitats, mature woodlands, caves, sinkholes and other recharge features, and Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer waters until there can be a trial on the merits some time in early 2017.
Clearing the right of way would include chopping down at least 58 acres of mature oak and Ashe juniper woodlands that provide habitat for endangered Golden-cheeked warblers. Plaintiffs’ expert. Dr. Norma Fowler of the UT Dept. of Integrative Biology testified by written declaration that it would take 75 to 90 years or more for the woodlands to grow back if they were cut down, and longer if the stumps were removed. UT Professor Phil Bennett testified by written declaration that there were likely many more caves, sinkholes and other recharge features on the right of way that had yet to be found because of the limited efforts by TxDOT consultants.
Wednesday’s hearing consisted of lawyers for the Plaintiffs and Defendants arguing to the court based on previously filed written briefs and documentary evidence. Judge Yeakel is expected to rule on the matter within the next few weeks. A trial on the merits would follow early next year.
At the same time TxDOT has not yet secured required approvals to construct SH 45 SW by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. While TCEQ approvals are likely forthcoming, USFWS approvals are not. TxDOT, however, has indicated they believe they can cut down warbler habitat while the migratory songbirds are overwintering in Central Texas and avoid an illegal harm to the endangered birds.
Thank you to everyone who has signed a petition, made a donation, filed a written comment, attended a meeting or otherwise help stop the Mopac South/45SW toll loop from being built without full compliance with our nation’s environmental protection laws. Your support has been critical to the Keep Mopac Local effort – and we need you to continue your support and participation.
Please stay tuned, we’ll keep you updated, and, if you are able, please make a tax-deductible donation to help us Keep Mopac Local and protect Barton Springs.