Maryland Judge Allows Opponents of Swallow Falls Bridge Replacement Plan to Challenge Decision in Court

Oakland, Maryland — Construction opponents of the Swallow Falls bridge replacement plan have won a significant victory in court. On Monday, visiting Judge W. Timothy Finan denied the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) motion to dismiss a petition challenging the state’s decision to grant an exception to the protected Youghiogheny River corridor. The petition, filed in September, calls on the court to remove the exception that would allow for the construction of a new bridge on an offset alignment of the existing Swallow Falls span.

The petitioners, including property owner Steve Storck, argue that the construction of a new bridge in an offset alignment would result in the loss of trees and habitat along the Youghiogheny River. This portion of the river, designated as wild, is subject to regulations governing use and development, prohibiting certain alterations. Judge Finan’s ruling recognizes the standing of the petitioners to challenge the DNR’s decision and allows for a review of the exception.

Attorney J. Dirk Schwenk, representing the petitioners, views the court’s decision as a positive development. He stated, “These are key early decisions… we will have the chance to show why the exception should not have been granted.” The petitioners’ arguments center around the potential environmental consequences of the bridge construction.

The case has been ongoing, with the Garrett County government previously joining the DNR in seeking to dismiss the petition. Their motion argued that the petition failed to meet the requirements for relief and lacked standing. Earlier this month, both parties appeared before Judge Finan to present their arguments. However, the judge ultimately denied the motion to dismiss, citing the petitioner’s reasons.

Steve Storck praised the outcome and credited his attorney for presenting a strong case against the DNR’s decision. In response, DNR Media Relations Manager Gregg Bortz expressed the department’s appreciation for the court’s consideration and stated that they are evaluating their options.

Judge Finan is scheduled to preside over the issue on April 2 and 3, providing the petitioners and the DNR with the opportunity to present their respective cases during the hearing.