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Commissioners warned of bypass lawsuit

If Fayette County does get a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approving the alignment of the second phase of the West Fayetteville Bypass, a citizen’s group is prepared to immediately file a lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act.

Dennis Chase, a local retired biologist and member of the West Fayetteville Bypass Coalition, said the group has secured enough funds to file the lawsuit and legal representation has already been secured.

Chase was one of six citizens opposing the bypass who spoke Thursday night to the Fayette County Commission during its public comment period.

Chase said the WFBC attorneys have told him it could take 18 to 24 months to resolve the lawsuit if it goes smoothly. What he didn’t specifically spell out is a hope among bypass opponents that such a timeframe will halt the bypass progress and give them time to vote out the three incumbent county commissioners in the 2012 election.

Already the bypass opposition has gained favor from newly-elected commissioners Steve Brown and Allen McCarty, who will be sworn into office in January. Both men have pledged to stop the bypass project and divert the money from the 2003 transportation sales tax to other projects.

Just over two weeks ago the commission voted unanimously to proceed with land acquisition for the second phase of the bypass, and Commission Chairman Jack Smith told The Citizen that the county has been given a verbal indication that the Corps of Engineers would approve the current alignment of the bypass.

That move drew the attention of several bypass critics at Thursday night’s meeting who contended that the voters have spoken against the bypass on two occasions: when incumbent commissioners Smith and Eric Maxwell were defeated at the polls in July, and also last year when the county’s 2009 special purpose local option sales tax was defeated resoundingly by a 3 to 1 margin.

Chase told the commission that the coalition against the bypass consisted of some who don’t even live near the bypass.

“Don’t ever think this is just a few people lying along the path bringing this lawsuit,” Chase said, explaining that the lawsuit had to wait for the Corps decision before it could be filed. “... This will be an issue for those of you running for election two years from now because it’s still going to be here.”

Fayette resident Denise Ognio said despite the fact that “we do not want a West Fayetteville bypass” she is continually reading about its progress in the newspaper.

“I ask you, have you forgotten who we the people are?” Ognio said. “We will stand behind you, but you have to listen to us. You work for us. We pay your salaries.”

Gordon Furr of Tyrone said he was unhappy that the bypass project was proceeding.

“I’m upset about how y’all are just undermining the citizens and don’t pay us any attention whatsoever,” Furr said. He added that the bypass would create a bottleneck of traffic on Westbridge Road where it terminates across from Ga. Highway 92.

The commission has already voted to proceed with work to realign a portion of Westbridge Road and also replace a bridge on the road.

Kim Hinchey, who also lives in unincorporated Fayette County, said she felt the commission was “ramming the West Fayetteville Bypass down our throats.”

Tom Halpin was another one of the six people who spoke against the bypass. He said he was concerned about the third phase of the bypass because of the affect it might have on kids walking to schools in the area. he also was concerned about the possibility of not having a traffic light on Harp Road at. Ga. Highway 85 where the southern leg of the bypass is slated to start.

“We don’t want this bypass,” Halpin said, adding that the inaction of the commission sends a message that they think nothing is wrong with the project.

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