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Riverdale Envtl. Action Comm. Along the Hudson v. Metropolitan Transp. Auth.

ELR Citation: 16 ELR 20884
Nos. No. 86 Civ. 2912 (JMW), 638 F. Supp. 99/(S.D.N.Y., 05/20/1986)

The court holds that a community organization and several individuals are barred by laches from seeking to enjoin the construction of a commuter train line power substation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Urban Mass Transportation Administration's (UMTA's) decision not to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) was not arbitrary or capricious. The court first holds that the doctrine of laches bars plaintiffs' application for injunctive relief, despite the more deferential test usually applied when a case involves public officials' NEPA duties. The planning and construction of the project have advanced too far to delay development while an EIS is prepared. Plaintiffs had been fully aware of and had participated in the planning process surrounding the Spuyten Duyvil substation and 37 other substations which will provide electrical power to a railroad system serving the suburbs north of New York City, yet they waited 18 months from the date of the project's approval before filing this suit. The court observes that the location of the Spuyten Duyvil substation had already been changed once to avoid using parkland, and that it cannot be moved much more without affecting the location of other substations. Moreover, substantial economic investment has been made since the project's approval in November 1984.

Even if plaintiffs' action were timely, the court holds, the decision by the Department of Transportation's UMTA not to prepare an EIS for the Spuyten Duyvil substation was not arbitrary or capricious. After noting that the arbitrary and capricious standard is the appropriate standard of review in the Second Circuit for considering an agency's decision not to prepare an EIS, the court initially declines to consider whether the UMTA should have prepared an EIS for the entire commuter lines project instead of considering each substation individually. Although this decision may have been an error, the project has now proceeded to the point that a project-wide EIS is impracticable; moreover, plaintiffs do not challenge the project as a whole. The court then holds that UMTA adequately considered alternative locations for the Spuyten Duyvil site in its environmental assessment (EA). Since an agency may consider a narrower range of alternatives if it finds no significant impact and the station could only be moved 200 to 300 feet north or south without affecting another substation, considering two sites was adequate. The court holds that it may consider evidence of deed restrictions of area landowners even though the deeds are not in the administrative record, but concludes that the project does not violate the restrictions.

The court holds that the EA does not violate NEPA for having been prepared by the local agency and only reviewed by UMTA. UMTA officials adequately exercised their independent judgment in reviewing the EA, which is all that NEPA requires. The court also holds that the EA adequately considered the aesthetic and visual impacts of the substation, although it expresses doubt that the "hard look" doctrine should even apply to aesthetic factors. Finally, the court holds that the EA adequately addressed the possible impacts of construction on the Hudson River as a navigable waterway.

Counsel for Plaintiffs-Appellants
William Hoppen
Jillson, Bedford & Hoppen
Suite 2104, 250 Broadway, New York NY 10007-2561
(212) 962-3332

Counsel for Defendants-Appellees
Randy M. Mastro, Ass't U.S. Attorney
One St. Andrews Plaza, New York NY 10007
(212) 791-0055