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Akiak Native Community v. U.S. Postal Serv.

Citation: 30 ELR 20632
No. No. 98-35466, 213 F.3d 1140/(9th Cir., 05/25/2000)

The court holds that the U.S. Postal Service did not violate either the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) or the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it proposed an experimental program that delivers nonpriority mail by surface hovercraft instead of fixed-wing aircraft to eight remote Alaska Native villages. The court first holds that the project did not violate the CZMA's requirement that development projects must be consistent with approved state management programs. Although the Postal Service initiated the project without waiting the required 90 days after it sent its consistency determination to the state, the regulations allow for the federal and state agency to agree to an alternative notification schedule. The administrative record is clear that the two agencies agreed on adifferent time interval and, in light of that agreement, the lack of a 90-day interval is far from a compelling reason to interfere with the consistency agreement. Additionally, the Postal Service submitted a draft monitoring plan to the state before initiating the project, as required by one of the conditions insisted upon by the state. Moreover, the Postal Service's commencement of the project before issuance of the state's final consistency determination does not present a compelling reason for upsetting the final agreement. The Postal Service received the state's preliminary consistency determination before the project began, and that preliminary determination found that the project was applicable with state law.

The court next holds that the Postal Service did not violate NEPA in the preparation of its environmental assessment (EA). The EA is sufficiently well-documented and explained. Although the EA does include some discussion of possible impacts, it does not conclude that there were substantial questions whether those impacts would occur and be significant. Further, the Postal Service satisfied its requirement under NEPA to consider the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's initial concerns, address them, and explain why it found them unpersuasive. Moreover, the generalized, non-self-executing mitigation strategies outlined in the EA are not unreasonable in light of the fact that mitigation plans are designed to ameliorate unexpected environmental impacts. Finally, the Postal Service adequately evaluated the no-action alternative and considered a reasonable range of alternatives in the EA.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (16 pp., ELR Order No. L-232).

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Robert W. Randall
Trustees for Alaska
725 Christensen St., Ste. 4, Anchorage AK 99501
(907) 276-4244

Counsel for Defendant
Joan M. Pepin
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000