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Alaska Ctr. for the Env't v. Armbrister

Citation: 28 ELR 20497
No. No. 97-35503, (9th Cir., 09/02/1997) amended opinion

The court holds that the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) complied with Department of Transportation Act (DOTA) § 4(f) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it approved the construction of an access road from Portage to Whittier, Alaska. The court first holds that the FHwA did not act arbitrarily, capriciously, or abuse its discretion under DOTA § 4(f) by rejecting an alternative that would not satisfy the purpose of the access road project. The FHwA thoroughly considered the relevant factors and alternatives and reasonably determined that an improved rail system is not a prudent alternative. The rail system would not meet the demand for access into Whittier. And because the environmental group challenging the FHwA's decision did not contend that the FHwA defined the purpose of the road access project so narrowly as to disqualify all alternatives except the road alternative, the FHwA is not required to make a further showing of unique problems or truly unusual factors associated with the rail system alternative. The court next holds that the final environmental impact statement (EIS) was adequate under NEPA. The final EIS thoroughly examined the relative safety risks associated with the road and rail system alternatives. The final EIS also specified the measures that will be taken to lessen the safety risks associated with the road. In addition, the purpose of the project was reasonably defined, and the improved rail system alternative was thoroughly considered. Thus, the court affirms the lower court's award of summary judgment in favor of the FHwA.

Before Wallace and Noonan, JJ.