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Sierra Club v. Hassell

Citation: 10 ELR 20779
No. No. 80-0179-H, 503 F. Supp. 552/15 ERC 1164/(S.D. Ala., 07/28/1980)

The court rules that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) properly determined that the reconstruction of the Dauphin Island Bridge in Alabama, destroyed by Hurricane Frederic, is not a major federal action requiring preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The FHWA, after considering and rejecting several alternatives, decided to rebuild the bridge in its original location without preparation of an EIS, concluding that it was not a major federal action. The Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit for the dredging after determining that it will have no significant effect on the environment, and the United States Coast Guard determined that the project is considered categorically exempt from § 102(2)(C) of NEPA since it is a replacement of a preexisting structure. The court finds that the agencies' decsions not to prepare an EIS for the action were based on the correct conclusion that the reconstruction of the bridge would have no significant environmental effects. The project was properly considered a non-major action under FHWA regulations implementing NEPA since the reconstruction will not result in any long-term alterations to the environment or changes in the status quo. In addition, the agencies are not required to consider resulting private development activities in determining whether an EIS is necessary. In response to plaintiff's objection that FHWA's negative determination was made without applying the Council on Environmental Quality's neq NEPA regulations, the court notes that at the time the decision was made FHWA was not required to apply them. Even if, however, the new regulations were applicable, the decision was still appropriate. Finally, the court rules that the doctrine of laches applies because of plaintiffs' unexplained sixmonth delay in filling the action.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Larry T. Menefee, Gregory B. Stein
P.O. Box 1501, Mobile AL 36601
(205) 433-2000

Rick Middleton
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Inc.
1424 K St. NW, Rm. 600, Washington DC 20005
(202) 347-1770

Sarah Chasis
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
122 E. 42nd St., New York NY 10017
(212) 949-0049

Counsel for Defendants
Larry U. Sims, Champ Lyons Jr., James B. Newman
Coale, Helmsing, Lyons & Sims
P.O. Box 2767, Mobile AL 36601
(605) 432-5521

William A. Kimbrough Jr., U.S. Attorney
P.O. Drawer E, Mobile AL 36601
(205) 690-2845

James E. Brookshire
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-1443