Yadkin Riverkeeper secures $1 million settlement in Union County case
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a comment from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
By Josh Bergeron
SALISBURY — The Yadkin Riverkpeer has reached a million-dollar settlement related to lawsuits over a planned road in Union County.
An announcement about the settlement came Monday from the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the Riverkeeper in the case. Under the settlement, the N.C. Department of Transportation has agreed to give $1 million to the Catawba Land Conservancy. The money will be used to purchase land or conservation easements in Union County.
Catawba Lands Conservancy manages land in a six-county area that includes Union County. It wasn’t involved in the lawsuits, but it will receive the money as a neutral third party that will identify and permanently protect land.
Yadkin Riverkeeper Will Scott said his organization regrets that the Monroe Expressway — the subject of lawsuits — is moving forward. Scott also said he’s pleased that money has been secured to protect lands near the expressway, which is planned to start near the small town of Marshville, cross U.S. 601 near Monroe and connect with U.S. 74 near Interstate 485.
The settlement will not have an effect in Rowan County.
Scott said the Yadkin Riverkeeper took interest in the Monroe Expressway because it will affect the Rocky River sub-basin, which feeds into the Yadkin-Pee Dee River. The Yadkin Riverkeeper’s opposition to the expressway includes the possibility that the road could destroy family owned farmland and worsen suburban sprawl.
Scott said the conservation easements or land purchased with the $1 million would serve as buffers to development along sensitive areas. A news release from the Southern Environmental Law Center says the settlement will help “protect special corners of Union County from the sprawling development that the groups fear will follow the new mega-highway.”
In a statement provided to the Salisbury Post, a spokesperson for the NC Department of Transportation said the expressway will relieve congestion and decrease travel times along the U.S. 74 corridor.
“The same special interest groups that repeatedly try to block critical transportation projects across the state, including the Bonner Bridge, lost this battle to prevent the Monroe Expressway from moving forward,” said DOT spokesperson Crystal Feldman. “Under the terms of the settlement, the groups are prohibited from filing additional lawsuits against the project, allowing construction of the Monroe Bypass to continue with an expected completion in 2019.”
In 2012, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals stopped the Monroe Expressway. Critical information was withheld from the public about the expressway, the courts said. After further study, the courts have allowed the expressway to proceed, which triggered the release of settlement funds.
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.