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City of Rochester and Genesee-Finger Lakes Regional Planning Board v. United States Postal Service and Benjamin F. Bailar

decided: September 3, 1976.


Appeal from judgment of United States District Court for the Western District of New York, Harold P. Burke, Judge, dismissing claims under the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4201 et seq., for injunction against construction of a Postal Service facility and transfer of Postal Service employees. Dismissal was based on the grounds of laches, lack of standing and failure to prove the claims alleged. Affirmed in part; reversed in part.

Smith, Mansfield and Oakes, Circuit Judges.

Author: Oakes

Oakes, Circuit Judge:

This appeal challenges the rather surprising Postal Service ruling that the construction of a $12 million postal facility in the town of Henrietta, New York, a suburb of Rochester, which construction contemplates the ultimate abandonment, in whole or in substantial part, of an older large facility in the city, is not a "major Federal actio[n] significantly affecting the quality of the human environment" within the meaning of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C)(NEPA). The appeal is also based on the failure of the Postal Service, in proceeding with this project, to consult with and consider the views of local planning authorities as appellants claim the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4231(b)(ICA),*fn1 requires the Service to do. The action was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York by the City of Rochester and the Genesee-Finger Lakes Regional Planning Board, an eight-county planning board which is the designated clearinghouse for purposes of Office of Management and Budget Circular A-95.*fn2 The decision of the district court, Harold P. Burke, Judge, dismissed the complaint on a number of grounds, ruling that appellants lack standing, that their suit is barred by laches, that the claims of injury as to the abandonment of the main Post Office are "social" and "economic" rather than "environmental," that the Postal Service has fully complied with the requirements of NEPA, and that the Service is exempt from the requirements of the ICA. Judge Burke found specifically that the preliminary determination of the Postal Service that the construction of its new " mail facility" in the town of Henrietta (the HMF) would not significantly affect the quality of the human environment was not arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion.

Since the appellants delayed in instituting suit until the construction project was well under way,*fn3 we affirm the judgment of the district court insofar as it refuses to enjoin further work at the Henrietta construction site. In all other respects, the judgment of the district court must be reversed.

The City's present Main Post Office (MPO) is located on Cumberland Street at the northern perimeter of the Rochester central business district, and is housed in a one- and two-story building of approximately 72,800 square feet. Rochester, a city of approximately 300,000 people, has already spent considerable sums (much by way of federal grant) to improve the adjacent central business district, by way of certain highway system modifications and acquisition of the old Penn Central Railroad terminal and its land; at least as of the beginning of 1976, the City was in the midst of preparing a new downtown development plan.

The Postal Service has determined that the city MPO is inadequate to handle anticipated mail processing needs. The Service is also of the view that the MPO has provided substandard working conditions for quite some time. As early as 1968 the Postal Service leased a building in the town of Henrietta,*fn4 some seven or eight miles from the city, for use as a sectional handling center. Approximately 300 employees were transferred at that time from the MPO to the leased Henrietta facility. In 1970, the Rochester Postmaster requested consideration of a plan to construct a general mail and vehicle maintenance facility to serve the entire Rochester metropolitan area. Over a four-year period the Postal Service determined that a new facility would be required and that a site of no less than 36 acres was necessary. A large portion of this area was to be used exclusively for "vehicle maintenance" purposes. No site of that size was available inside the city, and it was finally determined by the Postal Service, without informing either the City of Rochester or the regional planning board, that the best available site for the new facility was in the town of Henrietta.

I. Standing.

The conclusion of the district court that neither the City of Rochester nor the regional planning board has standing to seek enforcement of NEPA and the ICA is out of harmony with settled law. Well-reasoned cases have uniformly held that a municipality has standing to challenge federal agency action resulting in environmental damage within the city. See, e. g., City of Boston v. Volpe, 464 F.2d 254 (1st Cir. 1972); Town of Groton v. Laird, 353 F. Supp. 344, 348 (D. Conn. 1972). Similarly, a regional planning board which is designated under the ICA as the area-wide clearinghouse for regional planning, see 42 U.S.C. § 4231(b), (c), must be considered to have standing to seek review of federal projects in variance with the regional plan.

Appellees urge, however, that the issue of construction of the new facility at Henrietta and abandonment of the old in Rochester are "entirely separate and apart." The Postal Service view is that there are no adverse environmental effects to the City of Rochester stemming from the construction in Henrietta, and that only the HMF construction decision is proper for review at this time.*fn5 There being no injury to Rochester or the regional planning board from the Henrietta construction, it is argued, the appellants lack standing to raise the NEPA claim regarding that construction. This reasoning, however, is insufficient. The Postal Service has admitted that "the HMF is designed to accommodate all mail processing requirements of the metropolitan Rochester area. To effect this the USPS will transfer the job site of approximately 1400 employees from the [Rochester] MPO approximately seven miles to the HMF." Thus while construction of the new facility and termination of employment at, and potential abandonment of, see text accompanying notes 8, 9 and 10 infra, the old MPO are separable from the standpoint of construction, they are intimately related, interconnected so to speak, in terms of Postal Service usage. As will be discussed below, the environmental effects of the employee transfer may well be substantial, and their primary incident would be in the city of Rochester itself. Furthermore, the cases in this circuit and elsewhere have consistently held that NEPA mandates comprehensive consideration of the effects of all federal actions. 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(a). To permit noncomprehensive consideration of a project divisible into smaller parts, each of which taken alone does not have a significant impact but which taken as a whole has cumulative significant impact would provide a clear loophole in NEPA. Scientists Institute for Public Information v. Atomic Energy Commission, 156 U.S. App. D.C. 395, 481 F.2d 1079, 1086 -87 (1973); Conservation Society of Southern Vermont, Inc. v. Secretary of Transportation, 343 F. Supp. 761 (D. Vt. 1972), aff'd, 508 F.2d 927 (2d Cir. Ct. 1974), judgment vacated and remanded on other grounds, 423 U.S. 809, 96 S. Ct. 19, 46 L. Ed. 2d 29 (1975), rev'd on other grounds upon remand, 531 F.2d 637 (2d Cir. 1976). The guidelines of the Council on Environmental Quality make it clear that the statutory term "major Federal actions" must be assessed "with a view to the overall, cumulative impact of the action proposed, related Federal action and projects in the area, and further actions contemplated." 40 C.F.R. § 1500.6(a) (1975).*fn6 The transfer decision is plainly a consequential, if not an inseparable, feature of the construction project. Appellants therefore have standing in this case.


A study labeled "Environmental Impact Assessment" (EIA) was prepared by the Postal Service consulting architects, but this study was not released to the general public and public input was not received. The EIA dealt only with the environmental effects of the construction and operation of the new HMF; no consideration whatever was given to the environmental effects associated with the contemplated abandonment in whole or in large part of the MPO and the attendant transfer of some 1,400 employees therefrom to the Henrietta facility.*fn7 While the Postal Service concedes that the proposed construction is a "major Federal action," the Service has concluded, in reliance on the EIA, that the construction does not "significantly affec[t] the quality of the human environment." 42 U.S.C. § 4332 (2)(C).

We disagree. There are a multiplicity of factors, some of which were mentioned in the EIA and several of which were not, which indicate that substantial environmental degradation may result from the challenged project. The EIA, note 7 supra, falls short of the type of reasoned elaboration which must be required to support an administrative determination of non-substantiality under the EPA. See, e.g., Silva v. Lynn, 482 F.2d 1282 (1st Cir. 1973); Monroe County Conservation Council, Inc. v. Volpe, 472 F.2d 693, 697 (2d Cir. 1972).

More importantly, the Postal Service wholly neglected consideration of possibly major environmental effects associated with this project. The transfer of 1,400 employees alone could have several substantial environmental effects, including (1) increasing commuter traffic by car between the in-city residents of the employees and their new job site (only one bus route currently serves the HMF site; whether many current employees will find the HMF a more convenient work location is unknown); (2)(a) loss of job opportunities for inner-city residents who cannot afford or otherwise manage, to commute by car or bus to the HMF site, or (b) their moving to the suburbs, either possibly leading "ultimately [to] both economic and physical deterioration in the [downtown Rochester] community," cf. City of New York v. United States, 337 F. Supp. 150 (E.D.N.Y. 1972) (three-judge court); and (3) partial or complete abandonment of the downtown MPO which could, one may suppose, contribute to an atmosphere of urban decay and blight, making ...

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