Case Law Updates on the Environment (CLUE)
Case Law Update Details
Montlake Community Club v. Mathis
U.S. District Court - Washington
This project would replace the existing Washington State Route (SR) 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington and reconstruct a section of SR 520 between Lake Washington and Interstate 5 in Seattle. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) was the project sponsor. WSDOT and FHWA published a Final EIS in June 2011, and FHWA issued a ROD in August 2011. WSDOT, FHWA, and other agencies also entered into a Programmatic Agreement pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). WSDOT then made several changes to the project design. In 2016, WSDOT and FHWA prepared a Reevaluation that considered these design changes and determined no supplemental EIS was required. The 2016 Reevaluation stated that the design changes would require condemning a parcel that contained a market and gas station, and that the gas station would be demolished. In November 2017, the plaintiffs filed this lawsuit, alleging that the 2016 Reevaluation did not consider the impacts of closure and demolition of the market. In response to the lawsuit, WSDOT and FHWA prepared another Reevaluation (published in July 2018) that addressed only those impacts and again concluded no supplemental EIS was required.
After WSDOT and FHWA published the 2018 Reevaluation, the plaintiffs filed an amended supplemental complaint alleging that a supplemental EIS should have been prepared. The plaintiffs argued that the 2018 Reevaluation did not adequately consider noise and traffic impacts. The court ruled that the plaintiffs could not raise any arguments based on impacts that had been considered in the 2011 FEIS and ROD or the 2016 Reevaluation, because the statute of limitations for challenging those documents had run before the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in November 2017. The court also held that the agencies adequately considered construction noise impacts, traffic impacts, and impacts on a historic district.
Impacts Previously Considered. The court held that the plaintiffs could not raise any arguments based on impacts that had been considered in the 2011 FEIS and ROD or the 2016 Reevaluation. The 2016 Reevaluation stated that the parcel with the gas station and the market could be used for staging, traffic shifts, and transit access during construction; it also considered noise impacts from reconstruction of the adjacent roadway and utility relocations. Because the project design did not change following the 2016 Reevaluation, the court concluded that those impacts discussed in the 2016 Reevaluation did not need to be considered in the 2018 Reevaluation. Moreover, it was too late for the plaintiffs to challenge the prior environmental documents because the lawsuit was filed after the applicable statutes of limitations: more than six years after the 2011 FEIS and ROD, and more than 150 days after notice of the 2016 Reevaluation was published in the Federal Register. (The general statute of limitations for NEPA is six years. Under 23 U.S.C. § 139(l), the statute of limitations for challenging certain transportation project decisions is 150 days following publication of a notice in the Federal Register.)
Demolition and Construction Noise Impacts. The plaintiffs argued that the agencies failed to consider that the market served as a noise barrier that would be removed. The court held that the 2018 Reevaluation adequately considered construction impacts during and following demolition of the market. The court noted that the 2018 Reevaluation discussed noise and vibration from demolition of the market and use of the property for construction staging, as well as noise abatement measures. Mitigation included limiting construction hours, installing construction noise walls, and complying with city noise regulations or obtaining a noise variance from the city. “Considering these measures, as well as the FEIS and 2016 Reevaluation’s analysis of construction-related noise,” no supplemental EIS was required.
Impacts on Historic District. The plaintiffs argued that the agencies failed to consider construction noise impacts on a historic district adjacent to the market. The court held that this argument failed for the same reason as the plaintiffs’ argument regarding demolition and construction noise impacts. In addition, the court held that noise impacts on the historic district were mitigated through the Programmatic Agreement, which was considered in the 2016 Reevaluation. “Such mitigation measures are relevant to determining whether Defendants took a hard look at the potential environmental impacts that were the focus of mitigation. Given the consideration that the Programmatic Agreement and 2016 Reevaluation gave to the impact of construction-related noise on historic properties,” no supplemental EIS was required.
Traffic Impacts. The plaintiffs argued that the agencies did not adequately consider the traffic impacts of local residents driving to other grocery stores after closure of the market. The 2018 Reevaluation included a traffic analysis, which was based on vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle trip counts and industry-standard trip generation methodology. The traffic analysis concluded that closure of the market would result in fewer peak-hour vehicle trips in the area, largely due to fewer vehicle trips to the market. The court upheld the traffic analysis, giving deference to the agencies’ expertise: “Although Plaintiffs criticize different aspects of the methodology used in the traffic analysis, they do not point to another methodology that Defendants should have relied on. . . . The traffic analysis relied on an industry-standard methodology. Defendants were entitled to rely on the conclusions provided by their experts, so long as those opinions were reasonable.”