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Beaucatcher Mountain Defense Ass'n v. Coleman

ELR Citation: 6 ELR 20638
Nos. No. A 75-112, (W.D.N.C., 06/07/1976) Judgment for defendants

Following its rejection of defendants' technical contentions, 6 ELR 20198, the court rules for defendants on the merits of this challenge to the opening of a six-lane highway cut through Beaucatcher Mountain near Asheville, North Carolina. The project's impact statement (EIS) complied with the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. §4332(2)(C)(ii), ELR 41009, in discussing the use of highway tunnels as alternatives to the open cut. Its discussion of the traffic congestion and safety problems posed by tunnels justified their rejection. The EIS was not required to discuss other less reasonable alternatives. Fayetteville Area Chamber of Commerce v. Volpe, 515 F.2d 1021, 5 ELR 20379 (4th Cir. 1975).

The EIS also adequately discussed the social, economic and cultural impacts of the project, including impacts on historic sites and wildlife, secondary development, siltation and erosion, and disposal of rock. Moreover, since the project has been thoroughly studied over many years, has received the approval of federal, state and local officials, and has consumed substantial funds, it would be inappropriate to issue an injunction at this time. See Citizens Environmental Council v. Volpe, 364 F. Supp. 280, 3 ELR 20077 (D. Kan.), aff'd, 484 F.2d 870, 4 ELR 20009 (4th Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 416 U.S. 936 (1974).

The corridor and design public hearings on the project were held in 1966 and 1967, before 23 U.S.C. §128(a), ELR 41602, was amended to require consideration of social and environmental as well as economic effects of federal-aid highway projects. Nevertheless, the records of these hearings and a 1972 public hearing show that all three types of effects were fully considered, thus satisfying Arlington Coalition on Transportation v. Volpe, 458 F.2d 1323, 2 ELR 20162 (4th Cir. 1972).

Since this project received location approval in 1966, defendants were not obliged to obey 23 U.S.C. §109(i), ELR 41601, which requires projects to conform to noise level standards; §109(i) is limited to plans and specifications approved after July 1, 1972.

The extensive studies, investigations and hearings carried out by defendants to find a satisfactory solution to the long-standing problem of traffic congestion in the Beaucatcher Tunnel satisfy the court that the decision to build the open cut was not arbitrary or capricious.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (16 pp. $2.00, ELR Order No. C-1072).

Counsel are listed at 6 ELR 20198.

Jones, J.