While the judge decided not to halt the drainage project, his decision could lend momentum to a federal lawsuit against the highway expansion through north Denver neighborhoods.
By David Sachs
Denver District Court Judge David H. Goldberg won’t stop a flood control project at City Park Golf Course tied to the widening of I-70 through minority, low-income neighborhoods in north Denver. But he did say the drainage work “may be a thinly veiled subterfuge” to grease the skids for the highway expansion, which could prove relevant in a separate federal case against the I-70 project.
Plaintiffs suing the City and County of Denver argued that the true purpose of the project — which is absent from the city’s 2014 Storm Drainage Master Plan — is to protect the Colorado Department of Transportation’s I-70 expansion, which promises to increase traffic and pollution for years to come.
The $1.8 billion I-70 project would sink a portion of the highway 30 to 40 feet below ground, creating a flood pocket during large storms. Having the city assume the burden of drainage infrastructure shifts costs from CDOT and private companies to Denver taxpayers who pay a stormwater fee, advocates argued.
The pending case against the highway widening in federal court won’t be bound by such narrow legal concerns, however. That suit argues the Federal Highway Administration should not have approved CDOT’s widening without including the flood project in its environmental analysis.
which may result in significant detrimental chemical and biological changes to the soil and golf course that could take up to 10 years to manifest,” according to arborist Rebecca Wegner, who testified for the plaintiffs.
Goldhamer filed an injunction last month to stop CDOT from beginning construction before the federal case is heard. The request is still pending.
If a federal judge orders CDOT to redo its environmental analysis to include the drainage infrastructure, that would stall the widening, Goldhamer said, likely beyond next year’s election of a new governor. The question of whether to stop the expansion would then fall to whomever Coloradans elect to replace John Hickenlooper in 2018.
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