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Save Our Heritage v. Federal Aviation Admin.

Citation: 32 ELR 20290
No. No. 00-2340, 269 F.3d 49/(1st Cir., 10/23/2001)

The court denies a petition to review a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decision that authorized an airline company to provide scheduled passenger service to New York's LaGuardia Airport from a general aviation airport located in the vicinity of numerous historic parks and sites 15 miles northwest of Boston. Petitioners argued that the FAA violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act in concluding that the additional flights—up to 10 new round trips a day—would have a de minimis environmental impact and in failing to consult further with the government agencies concerned with historic preservation. The court first holds that the FAA directly studied the three types of potential effects from the additional flights: noise, fuel emissions, and surface traffic from passenger travel to and from the airport. It found each to be de minimis, and petitioners provided no basis for serious doubt as to those findings. The court also holds that the FAA's failure to prepare an environmental assessment or to consult further with historic preservation agencies was at most harmless error. The FAA made specific findings that the effects on the environment and on historic properties from 10 or so daily flights, against the backdrop of nearly 100,000 flights a year, would be de minimis. If the question were at all close and if plausible doubts had been raised, requiring a more elaborate assessment with more extensive consultation might serve some useful purpose. But neither is the case and, in these circumstances, the error (if there was one) is harmless.

Counsel for Petitioners
Andrea C. Ferster
Law Offices of Andrea C. Ferster
1100 17th St. NW, 10th Fl., Washington DC 20036
(202) 974-5142

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

Boudin, J. Before Selya and Lipez, JJ.