The following letter from Brian Henry of the Audubon Naturalist Society to Nelson Castellanos, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, Maryland Division; and Neil Pederson, administrator of the Maryland State Highway Administration, is shared with the Almanac:
Dear Mr. Castellanos and Mr. Pedersen:
On Wednesday, March 8, 2006, the Audubon Naturalist Society received a letter from the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) admitting that the Administration had failed to execute a critical study of dangerous air pollution which would be generated in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties if the Intercounty Connector (ICC) were built.
The decision to conduct the analysis of fine particulate matter pollution, called PM2.5, attempts to provide a last-minute “fix” to a serious problem with the ICC study. This type of pollution can cause serious, life-threatening respiratory problems, especially in children, seniors and those with asthma and similar conditions. Leaving out such information from the study is unfair and conceals from the public real health risks posed by the ICC.
THE LETTER ALSO suggests that the new PM2.5 analysis is simply "additional information." The ICC’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) contains no information or analysis on particulate matter in the study area, not even a description of the baseline condition. Thus, the PM2.5 study currently being undertaken by SHA is completely new, never before viewed by the public or governmental agencies.
A substantial study of this nature, particularly given its size and importance to public health, is nothing short of a supplemental analysis. Such a supplemental analysis deserves more consideration by the public than a token 15-day public review period.
In addition, it is unreasonable to imply, as your March 8 letter does, that these health risks be considered in isolation from the full ICC FEIS. If built, this $3 billion toll-highway would reshape development patterns and quality of life in the region. The public, especially our elected officials, should be allowed the opportunity to consider all its impacts together instead of piecemeal and for short periods of time. The sudden addition of a major air pollution study just days before the comment period was scheduled to end, without a comparable extension for the full ICC study, calls into question the credibility of the Administration’s commitment to a fair and honest public review.
BY THEMSELVES, these circumstances warrant a significant extension of the public comment period for the entire ICC FEIS — including the new air pollution study. But this is not the only serious circumstance that needs to be addressed.
The second paragraph of the SHA letter refers to an enclosed CD that contains a new version of Appendix R-7, a 102-page section listing SHA responses to thousands of detailed citizen comments on the study. As the letter acknowledges, the listing of those SHA responses to citizen questions was riddled with serious errors, often attributing comments to people who did not make them — or, alternatively, failing to attribute comments to people thereby making it difficult for the public to track responses to their comments and questions.
Study team responses to the public are a critical element of a fair process, which for many was not provided until last week. These people deserve an honest chance to review what state officials said in response to often substantial and technical comments — the late date at which these corrections were made does not provide that.
Another persistent problem for the public’s review is that the PDFs on which the study was distributed remain “locked.” This prohibits standard PDF functions, such as cutting, pasting, and adding personal notations. It appears state officials went to extra effort to limit ease of use in reviewing the 10,000-page document. In addition, essential technical appendices were not provided to the public in SHA mailings. Even those who specifically requested the technical appendices in advance did not receive the files with initial copies of the study.
These and other anecdotes paint a picture of a rush job on a critical study, a moving target for citizens struggling to weigh in on the study of a $3 billion proposed project, which could bring deadly soot to their neighborhood, remove treasured parkland and forests from the region, and destroy the headwater streams of the Chesapeake Bay.
THE ERRORS AND supplemental analysis merit a significant extension of the official public comment period for the entire ICC FEIS. Nothing less than an extension of 120 days from release of the FEIS on January 13, 2006 is fair to the public, particularly given the piecemeal release of different elements of the FEIS and the inability of the public to have the chance to consider the FEIS, including the new air pollution study, as a whole package.
We are hopeful that you will endorse a genuinely fair and open process by taking these actions immediately. This is a reasonable request given the length and complexity of the study and its enormous $3 billion price tag.
Consistently, this project has been pushed along artificial timelines that have resulted in errors and oversights. Please take the time now to address these mistakes, and others you may have yet to highlight.
ICC Campaign Coordinator
Audubon Naturalist Society