(CN) – The 4th Circuit agreed with the district court that an environmental challenge to a multimillion-dollar bridge connecting two South Carolina towns may proceed. The decision repudiated claims by the state transportation director that he should be granted sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment.
The Briggs-DeLaine-Pearson Connector is a 10-mile bridge being developed jointly by the South Carolina Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. A federally funded project slated to cost between $100 million and $150 million, it will connect the towns of Lone Star and Rimini.
The South Carolina Wildlife Federation and two other groups sought injunctive relief to reconsider an impact statement issued under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The groups opposed the 3-mile section of the bridge that would run over the Santee Swamp, between the Santee River and Lake Marion.
In addition to suing the state and federal agencies, environmental groups also sued the agency directors as individuals.
The government sought dismissal on several grounds, including that the environmental groups lacked standing and that state agencies retain sovereign immunity from federal lawsuits under the 11th Amendment.
The 4th Circuit affirmed the South Carolina federal court’s decision denying dismissal. The environmental groups passed the test for standing, as members would clearly be injured if the bridge was found to violate environmental law.
The 4th Circuit determined that the National Environmental Policy Act provides the ability to sue, while pointing out that the 11th Amendment does permit legal action against state officials for injunctive relief.
The state transport department director also fulfilled a “special relation” requirement, since he is “deeply involved in the preparation of the challenged [impact statement].”
“Because state actors could significantly alter a project’s environmental impact, a federal court may hear a suit for injunctive relief,” Judge Duncan wrote.