Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Waltham, City of v. U.S. Postal Serv.

ELR Citation: 24 ELR 21391
Nos. Nos. 92-1004 et al., 11 F.3d 235/(1st Cir., 12/02/1993)

The court affirms a district court's denial of an injunction to halt construction of a U.S. Postal Service (Postal Service) mail distribution facility pending preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) because the Postal Service's environmental assessments (EAs), taken together, provide adequate factual support for a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) under the National Environmental Policy Act. The court first holds that the district court acted lawfully in reviewing an EA performed after two Massachusetts towns filed suit against the Postal Service and after the Postal Service made its FONSI. The towns seek an injunction requiring preparation of an EIS and the third EA indicates that this relief is unnecessary, that an injunction would not serve the public interest, and that one could not justify injunction-related project delays through reference to eventual statutorily related environmental benefits. Moreover, the record indicates that remand of the case to the Postal Service for further consideration of the third EA would serve no useful purpose because the assessment reveals no new environmental harms, nor does it provide evidence that any harm already considered is more likely than previously thought and the towns have not cast any doubt on the reliability of the third assessment's facts or analysis. Furthermore, the district court guarded against post hoc rationalization by reviewing the third EA independently without giving the agency the benefit of the doubt. The risk of post hoc rationalization is also small because the document contains the same kind of analysis that the Postal Service earlier found persuasive.

The court next holds that the towns have failed to show a substantial possibility that the project could significantly affect the quality of the human environment. The court's reasons for its decision are basically those the district court described in its opinion. In addition, the court finds no substantial possibility of an adverse truck traffic impact on one of the towns, the towns failed to produce data that suggests the possibility of increased traffic through one town is not speculative, and the towns failed to show any substantial likelihood that an environmentally significant lessening of rainwater runoff to a neighboring wetlands will occur given the stormwater management plan set forth in the third EA. Also, the lower court made its judgment dependent on the avoidance of construction in floodplains or wetlands or the discharge of fill into wetlands, the Postal Service's proposed increase in the size of the building additions does not automatically mean greater or different environmental effects than the record describes, and the third EA and the district court determined that the environment will suffer no significant noise impact.

The court also rules against the towns on various procedural claims. The fact that the Postal Service attached a statement of material facts to its motion for summary judgment and not to its opposition to the town's motion is legally irrelevant. The district court has the authority to interpret its own local rules so that literal compliance with the rules is not necessary when the failure to do so makes no legal difference. The towns failed to show that the district court's denial of a discovery request was plainly wrong and substantially prejudicial. The towns failed to show how the district court violated any legal standards in refraining from ordering the Postal Service to provide it with a document that apparently discusses the environmental effects of choosing other sites for the new facility. The district court's alleged improper admission into evidence of a letter is not significant because even if the district court improperly relied on the letter, the error is harmless. The court has found no evidence that the Postal Service acted in bad faith sufficient to invalidate the Postal Service's FONSI or to demonstrate a violation of other relevant case law.

The court next holds that the Postal Service provided meaningful consultation, considered local points of view, and made reasonable efforts to accommodate local concerns as required by the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act and Executive Order No. 12372. Assuming the Executive Order is enforceable, the court holds that the Postal Service adequately considered the tax consequences of the project and the towns failed to provide evidence to show that providing infrastructure improvements in lieu of taxes violates the Act or the Executive Order. Nor have the towns pointed to any specific zoning-related problem that might show a violation of the Act or the Executive Order. The record adequately supports the conclusion that any notice violation did not significantly affect the quality of the environment and did not warrant an injunction because subsequent meaningful consultation took place. Finally, the court holds that the Postal Service is not required to obtain a Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) permit to discharge material onto wetlands because there will not be sufficient discharge of material to trigger the permit requirement, and an injunction is not necessary to require an FWPCA permit to allow the discharge of pollutants because the Postal Service concedes that it needs such a permit and the district court judgment is contingent on issuance of that permit.

Counsel for Plaintiff
John B. Cervone III, Ass't City Solicitor
City Solicitor's Office
Government Ctr., 119 School St., Waltham MA 02154
(617) 893-4040

Counsel for Defendant
Mary E. Carmody, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
1003 J. W. McCormack Bldg., Boston MA 02109
(617) 223-9400

Before BREYER, Chief Judge, ALDRICH, Senior Circuit Judge, and SELYA, Circuit Judge