The Case for a Thorough Environmental Review

For years MBA has advocated for environmental review of the bridge project pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rather than exempting the project from any review through the planned Categorial Exclusion (CE) designation. The CE, a regulatory exemption from environmental review allowed under the law, was agreed to by Missoula County, the State of Montana, and the Federal Government in spite of public objections. The problem, and it is a significant one, is that a CE fails to consider any environmental impacts of the project, eliminates public participation, and could potentially cost Missoula County taxpayers millions of dollars. 

Bridge replacement automatically trips the NEPA process when federal funds are involved, as they are in this project. Under NEPA there are two levels of review, in order from least to most robust, an Environmental Assessment (EA) and an Environmental Impact Study (EIS). A CE is defined as “a category of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human or the natural environment… and for which, therefore, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement is required.” The government agencies have made this determination in the absence of taking a look at any environmental impacts at all.

An EA is a study to identify significant environmental impacts to the human and natural environments. If significant impacts are discovered, the process steps up to an EIS which addresses the necessary mitigation measures for the project.

MBA supports an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) because it staunchly believes the project will have significant effects on both the human and natural environment.

A transparent, unbiased review that thoroughly examines both options; rehabilitating the current Maclay Bridge or replacing it with a new two-lane bridge on South Avenue West will insure the safest, most environmentally sound, and economical outcome.

A thorough environmental review will answer many questions which remain unanswered, thus assuring that Missoula County taxpayers’ benefit from the best attainable solution. 

Questions which need to be publicly vetted before proceeding with rehabilitating Maclay Bridge include:

Can a rehabbed one-lane bridge:

Questions which need to be publicly vetted before proceeding with building a new two-lane bridge on South Avenue West include: