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Sabine River Auth. v. Department of the Interior

Citation: 21 ELR 20239
No. No. TX-87-36-CA, 745 F. Supp. 388/(E.D. Tex., 08/13/1990)

The court holds that the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS's) decision not to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for its acquisition of a conservation easement on wetlands owned by a hunting club is not arbitrary and capricious. Plaintiff was considering building a reservoir on the site. The court finds that the FWS's action does not alter the environmental status quo, since the acquisition of the easement forecloses change in the physical environment of the wetland site. There is no causal relationship between speculative effects and any change in the physical environment caused by acquisition of the easement. The court holds that the FWS's actions are therefore not within the scope of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The court notes that here a governmental entity, the Sabine River Authority, is attempting to use NEPA to protect a plan to develop natural resources. This is contrary to NEPA's purposes and the FWS's mandate to protect wetlands. The court holds that plaintiff lacks standing to assert a NEPA claim because NEPA does not protect an interest to construct a reser[21 ELR 20240] voir. The court holds that the environmental assessment is adequate because the FWS adequately considered the findings of a biological survey, water supply issues, and alternatives. The court also holds that the FWS properly consulted with other agencies, allowed the proper comment period, and adequately considered the environmental consequences of its action. The court also holds that the FWS did not need to prepare an EIS for its preservation program because the program is not a proposal for a major federal action under NEPA. Finally, the court holds that the terms of the easement that restrict public access to the club's property do not violate provisions of the Fish and Wildlife Act or the Refuge Recreation Act.

Counsel for Plaintiff
William H. Burchette, Christine Ryan
Heron, Burchette, Rackert & Rothwell
1025 Thomas Jefferson St., NW, Ste. 700, Washington DC 20007
(202) 337-7700

Counsel for Defendants
Ruth Harris Yeager, First Ass't U.S. Attorney
1st Republic Bank Plaza Tower, 110 N. College St., Ste. 600, Tyler TX 75702
(214) 527-8146

Lisa Hemmer
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000