Annapolis files bridge suit Severn River Bridge lawsuit aimed at state and federal officials.

September 19, 1991|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

The City of Annapolis has filed suit against state and federal officials to block construction of the controversial new Severn River bridge at the U.S. Naval Academy.

The papers, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, asked a federal judge to hold a preliminary injunction hearing within 10 days.

The suit claims that the new bridge would destroy the aesthetics of the Colonial Annapolis Historic District in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act.

It also claims that attempts to build the new bridge violate numerous state and federal laws, and that the defendants failed to "adequately" consider such things as the historic and environmental impact in approving plans for it.

The Schaefer administration plans to replace the current drawbridge on Md. 450, which was built in 1924, with a much higher structure that many residents sharply oppose.

City Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson yesterday that said the city "supports" the goals of a similar federal suit filed last week by Citizens for the Scenic Severn River Bridge Inc. But Hodgson said he decided to file suit to keep to keep the city government's concerns separate from those of the private citizens.

Judge Joseph C. Howard, who has been assigned to handle both suits, has not yet decided whether to grant the city's hearing request or a similar one from the citizens' group.

State officials plan to receive bids on the $42.5 million replacement bridge project Sept. 24, and must award a contract by Oct. 1 to get $32 million in federal grant money to help pay for it.

The city's preliminary injunction application, filed as part of the civil suit, specifically asks Howard to enjoin all the defendants from "further planning, approval, permitting, financing, contracting or construction" of the proposed bridge and to restrain them from "demolishing or damaging" the existing bridge pending the requested court hearing.

A court official said yesterday it is likely that Howard will decide whether to grant the preliminary injunction hearings in both cases before the Oct. 1 deadline.

The city's suit names Don Wolfrey, an Annapolis resident, as co-plaintiff. Wolfrey lives on College Avenue in the historic district, within sight of the bridge.

Defendants are Samuel Skinner, federal transportation secretary; Thomas Larson, federal highway administrator; O. James Lighthizer, state transportation secretary; Hal Kassoff, state transportation administrator; and Torrey Brown, state secretary of natural resources.

Richard T. Colaresi, one of two private attorneys hired as special counsel to handle the city's suit, said both the city and the citizens' group "want to stop the [proposed] bridge."

State officials have described the proposed bridge as a 75-foot-high structure. But the city's suit says the new bridge would stand approximately 90 feet above the river, and that light fixtures on it would take the bridge's total height well over 100 feet.

At the 90-foot height, the suit claims, "the combination of high crosswinds and the height of the bridge will present a particular hazard to bicycle and pedestrian traffic" that the present, lower bridge now accommodates without problems, in addition to wrecking the Annapolis skyline.

The proposed bridge would be the only roadway in Anne Arundel County permitting bicycle and pedestrian traffic to cross the Severn, the suit said.

bTC Colaresi said the city is seeking a lower structure "more in keeping with the historic district."

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