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National Ecological Found. v. Alexander

ELR Citation: 37 ELR 20205
Nos. No. 06-5700, (6th Cir., 08/03/2007)

The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded a lower court decision denying Tennessee's motion to clarify its obligations under a 1985 consent decree regarding its plans to improve a stream. The state wanted to transform 1.5 miles of the stream into a 2.4-mile "meandering channel" to mimic the natural conditions of a stream and provide significant environmental benefits. The state intends to implement the restoration project independently of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps), who is primarily responsible for a waterway improvement project in the same general geographic area. The state filed a motion seeking a declaration from the court that the consent decree did not prohibit the state from implementing the restoration project, but conservation groups opposed the motion. They argued that the state could not perform any independent work in the area because the decree states that the role of the state is to perform "maintenance of the Corps' work" within the project area. But another provision of the consent decree requires the state to perform "all future work" in the area. Because the term "all future work" is ambiguous, this ambiguity must be resolved in favor of the state. Hence, the consent decree does not limit the role of the state to maintaining work of the Corps and the state's motion to clarify its obligations under the decree should have been granted.