A group of Annapolis residents fighting to save the city's crumbling Severn River Bridge lost a federal appeal that would have stopped construction of an 80-foot-high replacement span.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., tossed out the group's lawsuit Wednesday, dealing a critical setback to the yearlong battle to preserve the old drawbridge over the Severn River.
Critics fear the new $40 million bridge under construction will damage the river's natural habitat and Annapolis' historic skyline. But their efforts to halt construction until a new set of environmental impact studies could be conducted have been repeatedly rebuffed.
"We're obviously quite disappointed," said Bryan Miller, president of Citizens for a Scenic River Bridge, the civic group that filed the appeal after a lower court threw out an earlier suit.
The group is now considering taking the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We feel that we do have a very strong case," Mr. Miller said, though he acknowledged an appeal with the Supreme Court is "going a bit further than we originally anticipated."
In a short opinion received by the group yesterday, the three-judge panel concluded a federal court in Baltimore had ruled properly last December in rejecting two lawsuits aimed at blocking the construction.
Maryland transportation officials persuaded the lower court that they had carefully considered all aspects of the proposed span before approving it. Lawyers also argued that the 68-year-old bridge into Maryland's capital is one of the worst in the state and badly needs to be replaced.
Opponents of the high span, who contend the existing drawbridge is still structurally sound, have not conceded the battle. But some Annapolis officials said privately yesterday that the latest court defeat could signal the end.
The citizens group, which has mounted a vigorous attack against the 80-foot span, is now pinning its hopes on getting the drawbridge placed on the National Historic Register. A decision is expected within 30 days, which could trigger a new review of the construction, Mr. Miller said.
Environmental activists and historic preservationists first joined hands and marched across the bridge in May 1991 to protest the proposed replacement, which they declared insensitive to the historic character of Annapolis. As construction began, opponents waged a federal legal battle to stop the project, filing suits and stop-work orders.
They lost all attempts to halt construction. But Mr. Miller said, "The good thing, I think, is that we have informed the public."