Monday, March 31, 2008

The Environmental Cost

A five mile construction project on California State Highway 46 is having a ceremonial first dirt moved today. It reminds me of the hidden, and largely undiscussed, cost of the environmental process. The section of highway from US Route 101 to CA State Route 99 has been known as a dangerous section of highway. A group was formed about 12 years ago to push to get funding for the project. The project received the funding, but construction was delayed to due to the environmental process. There are endangered species and wetlands in areas of the project(although in some parts of the country I don't think you would consider it a wetland) that have delayed the project.

I believe any delay caused by the environmental process is the cause for a portion of the deaths, injuries and accidents in this section of road much the same way the drug makers are liable for the period of time they leave a harmful product on the market after they know it is dangerous. In my experience in working with regulatory agencies saving and protecting lives is not even a goal, but delaying the project seems to be (whether intentional or intentional). In one example, while working on a bridge replacement project, the National Marine Fisheries Service representative came out and declared the project was not habitat for the species of concern. It took over the regulated 180 days to get the letter stating that the project was not going to affect the species of the fish, delaying the project and putting people's lives at risk. The final letter stated as such. Why the delay? I couldn't tell you, but the potential damage to human life was there as highlighted by the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota. Maybe someday we will once again value the lives of humans over that of a frog, trout or a wet patch of land and reduce the time of regulatory approval from 180 days to 30 days, think of all the lives and property that would be saved.

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