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Will LKN Marine Commission make waves for DOT, Cintra?

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By Dave Vieser. In yet another twist in the ongoing I-77 toll lane saga, it turns out that the $650 million project needed the approval of the Lake Norman Marine Commission before it started. The commission’s approval is necessary because it crosses Lake Norman at the Iredell County line.

The DOT has asked to be on the commission’s June agenda. However, Marine Commission Executive Director Ron Shoultz says it will be pushed to July to give commissioners more time to conduct a thorough review.

Commission procedures normally require a minimum of 30 days notice for an item to be placed on a meeting agenda, but the DOT’s letter asking for placement on the June 13 in Mooresville was only dated May 20.

Whether this amounts to a simple reduction in NCDOT’s high-speed race to toll I-77 or a real roadblock is anyone’s guess.

“No construction has been done within the four areas where the I-77 Express Lanes project crosses the FERC boundary. Current construction activities in the project’s northern section are not within the FERC boundary.”

– NCDOT

The NCDOT explained it away thusly: “No construction has been done within the four areas where the I-77 Express Lanes project crosses the FERC boundary. Current construction activities in the project’s northern section are not within the FERC boundary.” FERC refers to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which ultimately oversees Lake Norman and how Duke Energy manages the lake.

However, Rick Rhodes, spokesman for Duke Energy, says that any concerns voiced by regulatory agencies such as the Marine Commission are usually ironed out between them and the applicant, in this case the DOT. “We would not normally consider the FERC permit until those concerns have been addressed.”

This is all about the environment, and rules and regulations that everyone else must follow, all the way down to docks and floats. Business Today and Cornelius Today were the first publications to report that NCDOT never commissioned an economic impact study for the $650 million toll plan between Lake Norman and Charlotte.

Kurt Naas, founder of the WidenI-77 anti-toll group, said he wants the Marine Commission to fulfill its charter for taking appropriate responsibility for Lake Norman and its shoreline area for matters relating to or affecting public recreation and water safety.

“This would include demanding a realistic environmental assessment. But given the history of this project, you’ll pardon our cynicism if this isn’t another perfunctory box-checking exercise,” he said on the widenI-77.org web site.

“This would include demanding a realistic environmental assessment. But given the history of this project, you’ll pardon our cynicism if this isn’t another perfunctory box-checking exercise.”

– Kurt Naas, WidenI77.org

While the actual construction work has not begun, crews have been shifting travel lanes in recent weeks between Exits 28 and 36, a process which includes grinding out old lane markings. However, DOT officials say no construction work has begun in areas where they have not received federal approval.

In the letter to the Commission’s Executive Director dated May 20, Virginia Mabry, NCDOT’s manager of “priority projects,” said that “the lake is a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licensed lake and DOT must submit a Conveyance Application to Duke Energy and receive approval before construction within the FERC boundary can begin.”

The five-member commission, formed in 1969, is responsible for taking appropriate action for Lake Norman and its shoreline area on matters relating to public recreation and water safety. As part of these duties the commission works with Duke Power on lake development as part of their FERC license requirements.

Shoultz said that while many of the issues brought before the commission are routine in nature and handled quickly, the toll lane project was not. “I suspect the members of the commission may need more time to give this application close scrutiny.”

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