News release: Environmental Law & Policy Center of the Midwest

In a potentially major setback for INDOT, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has formally objected to INDOT's draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the I-69 highway project.

John Moore, attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), said that "INDOT is caught between the rock of common sense and the hard place of the law. EPA's comments show that the law requires INDOT to choose Alternative 1 - the I-70/US 41 route - because it both meets the project's core goals and it would cause far less environmental damage, especially to aquatic resources, than INDOT's preferred new-terrain routes."

According to EPA, INDOT's environmentally damaging "preferred alternatives" may not comply with federal law requiring INDOT to select the "least damaging practicable alternative" for the highway project.

In sharp contrast, EPA found that, "based on information presented in the Tier 1 DEIS, Alternative 1 appears to be the alternative that most fully complies with" Federal Clean Water Act legal requirements. [Page 9 - emphasis added]

EPA therefore "highly recommended" that INDOT re-evaluate Alternative 1 before issuing the final study.

R. "Turk" Roman, President of the Vigo County Council, heralded EPA's filing. "It's time for INDOT and Governor O'Bannon to face reality: US 41/I-70 can be built more quickly and inexpensively than any of the other routes while still meeting the project's purposes, and without serious environmental impacts and legal challenges."

Notably, EPA's filing confirms that all of the highway alternatives in the DEIS, including Alternative 1, achieve the stated needs for the project's three core goals - 1) improving the transportation linkage between Indianapolis and Evansville; 2) improving personal accessibility in Southwest Indiana; and 3) facilitating interstate and international freight movements.

EPA's filing also details Alternative 1's strikingly lower environmental impacts compared to INDOT's "preferred" more expensive and destructive new-terrain alternatives:

  • "What is noteworthy is that Alternative 1 is likely to have three to five times less wetland impact than the other build alternatives. This difference would not likely be overcome by careful routing of the highway alignment in Tier 2." [Page 3]
  • "Alternative 1 avoids the karst and cave region of southwest Indiana, to considerable environmental advantage for avoiding primary and secondary impacts to ground/surface water."
  • "EPA believes Alternative 1 is far superior to any of the other Tier 1 DEIS alternatives for avoiding impacts to forest land and forest habitat."
  • "Alternative 1 would have a significantly lower impact on farmland in Southwest Indiana than any of the Tier 1 DEIS alternatives, including the 'preferred alternatives.'"

EPA's filing includes the key finding that "Alternative 1 has, at least, 2 to 3 times less impact on multiple [environmental] resources when compared to the 'preferred alternatives,' with the lowest construction costs and very low operation and maintenance costs." [Page 2 of EPA Cover Letter - emphasis added]

Andy Knott, Air and Policy Director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, welcomed EPA's review. "EPA agrees that Alternative 1 is better on virtually every measure, including farmland, water supply, forest land, karst, and other natural resources, and it is less expensive to build and maintain," he said. "When will Governor O'Bannon and Lieutenant Governor Kernan start listening to common sense and put the State's needs first?"

A copy of EPA's comments (with highlighting added)is available online at ... (use the capitalization of the URL) or by contacting John Moore, at 312-795-3706 or