(CN) – A Florida tribe lost its bid to block construction of a mile-long bridge to replace the Tamiami Trail, also called U.S. Highway 41, as part of a federal effort to improve water flow in the Everglades.
The 11th Circuit said it lacked jurisdiction to review the government’s plans, citing language in a 2009 spending bill that partially repealed the environmental laws invoked by the Miccosukee Tribe.
The tribe had filed two lawsuits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the planned bridge. The first accused the Corps of violating the National Environmental Policy Act by not considering all the environmental impacts, including the possibility that the higher water levels would flood tribal lands and tree islands.
The second lawsuit invoked the Endangered Species Act, arguing that the Corps failed to address the bridge’s impact on two endangered wood stork colonies.
The Corps moved to dismiss the NEPA lawsuit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, as Congress had approved the bridge project in its September 2008 spending bill.
However, a federal judge ruled that the appropriations bill was not specific enough to exempt the government from NEPA requirements, because it neither mentioned the Act nor included the key phrase “notwithstanding any other provision of law,” which typically indicates an exemption or limited repeal.
In March 2009, Congress passed another spending bill, the Omnibus Appropriations Act, which again set aside money for the bridge, but also included the key phrase missing in the first bill.
The federal judge then dissolved its preliminary injunction, saying the new bill was an “explicit exemption” from the environmental laws invoked by the Miccosukee Tribe.
The Corps filed a copy of this ruling with the judge presiding over the Endangered Species Act lawsuit, resulting in a similar dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
The Atlanta-based federal appeals court affirmed both dismissals.
“The simplest reading of this plain language is that Congress wanted the bridge built now,” Judge Charles Wilson wrote, referring to the text of the Omnibus Act.
“Congress sought to facilitate his goal by repealing the environmental laws that it had previously passed,” he wrote. “Allowing further administrative challenges to the bridge under those environmental laws, more than two decades after Congress passed legislation seeking to improve water flows in the Everglades, would further delay the speedy completion of the bridge and frustrate Congress’s clear intent.”