The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lasker, District Judge.
The United States brought the principal suit on behalf of the
United States Postal Service (the "Postal Service" or the
"Service") to condemn land for the construction of a new
General Mail Facility and Vehicle Maintenance Facility
("GMF/VMF" or "facility") to serve all of Westchester and
Putnam Counties, New York.*fn1
The City of New York (the "City") filed a separate suit for
declaratory and injunctive relief in City of New York v. United
States Postal Service, 91 Civ. 0758 (MEL). Westchester County
and the Purchase Environmental Protective Association ("PEPA"),
now joined by the Town of Harrison, and the City all move for a
preliminary injunction barring construction of the postal
facility pending completion of an Environmental Impact
Statement ("EIS").*fn2 The United States moves for partial
summary judgment on the issues raised by the motions for a
The proposed facility will require the paving of at least six
acres of currently undeveloped land and will require the
erection of two large buildings totalling roughly 873,000
square feet. The land is adjacent to the Westchester County
Airport and therefore is extremely desirable to the Postal
Service; it also includes wetlands and is within 700 feet of
the Kensico Reservoir (the "Reservoir"), through which ninety
percent of New York City's drinking water passes. These
circumstances make critical the evaluation and management of
the project's possible environmental consequences.
The motions put in issue the Postal Service's finding that
its proposed facility will have no significant impact on the
environment, and that accordingly no full EIS need be prepared
before its construction pursuant to the National Environmental
Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. (1988).
For the reasons discussed below, the motions for a
preliminary injunction are granted, and the United States'
motion for summary judgment is denied.
For several years the Postal Service has engaged in planning
to replace its current Westchester County, New York General
Mail Facility and Vehicle Maintenance Facility, which it
characterizes as "outmoded and inadequate." Review of a variety
of possible locations led to the selection of the site now at
issue, in the Towns of Harrison and North Castle, adjacent to
the Westchester County Airport and Route 120, and very near
Interstate Highway 684 ("I-684").
The proposed facility includes a multistory General Mail
Facility ("GMF") and a one-floor Vehicle Maintenance Facility
("VMF"), both intended to serve all of Westchester County. The
site will include more than six acres of paved surfaces and
over 873,000 square feet of building space. The facility is
expected to operate 24 hours a day seven days a week, to
generate 500 to 700 official vehicle trips and additional
private vehicle trips each day, and to employ over 1,600
The Service initially selected the present site in February
1988, and that month published an Environmental Assessment
("EA") concluding that a full EIS ("EIS") was unnecessary
because "significant environmental impacts are not anticipated
which cannot be mitigated." On February 18, 1988, the EA was
supplemented by a "Wetland Impact Report" identifying one
affected wetland of .95 acres.
On December 23, 1988, the Service issued a revised EA, again
concluding that no EIS was necessary.
In the fall of 1989, Congress, responding to controversy over
the site's selection, passed a bill restricting funding for
work at the site until February 1, 1990, and requesting the
Service to report to the House Appropriations Committee as to
possible alternative sites. Congresswoman Nita Lowey then
established an independent Citizens Advisory Committee on Site
Selection, which on January 8, 1990 recommended three alternate
sites. The Service objected to these sites and in February 1990
issued another revised EA for the Harrison site. The new EA now
identified a total of 1.371 acres of wetlands on the site.
On July 15, 1990, the Town of Harrison presented the Service
with an extensive list of alleged inadequacies in the most
recent EA, and demanded preparation of a full EIS.
In October 1990 the Service issued a fourth EA, which was
followed on November 8, 1990 by the issuance of a finding of no
significant impact ("FONSI") when anticipated mitigation
measures were taken into account. This EA and its appendices
consist of seven volumes containing extensive discussion of
many possible environmental effects of the proposed Facility.
It includes discussion of the anticipated impact of the project
on the Kensico Reservoir, wetland areas on the site, traffic in
the area, and wastewater disposal and water supply, as well as
the project's cumulative environmental impact in conjunction
with other nearby land uses.
Movants allege that the Service was arbitrary and capricious
in declaring the project not likely to have a significant
impact and failing to complete an EIS, and that the Service
therefore has violated the requirements of NEPA and regulations
pursuant to that statute. NEPA requires federal agencies to
prepare an EIS before embarking on "major Federal actions
significantly affecting the human environment."
42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C). Regulations pursuant to NEPA authorize agencies to
conduct a preliminary environmental assessment ("EA") to
determine whether a project is likely to have significant
environmental effects, and accordingly whether a full EIS must
be prepared. 40 C.F.R. § 1508.9(a)(1) (1990).
Movants allege that the present EA relies on several mistaken
factual premises, that it neglects to consider other relevant
factors, and more broadly that it is the result of the Postal
Service's effort to justify a preordained result rather than to
consider objectively the environmental consequences of the
proposed action and its alternatives. Review of the record
confirms the existence of a variety of shortcomings in the
Service's EA, including that:
1) The EA's analysis of the facility's cumulative impacts
failed to consider the compounding effects of present and
anticipated future development in the area.
2) The EA's traffic analysis relies on the implementation of
mitigation measures including the installation of new traffic
signals and the expansion of existing roads although these
measures have not received necessary state approval, and may
therefore prove impossible to implement.
3) The EA fails to consider the effects of any failures of
the proposed mitigation measures. This omission is especially
troubling because the Service's proposed mitigation of the
effects of stormwater runoff, which will pass through on-site
wetlands to the Kensico Reservoir, is extensive but relies on
measures whose effectiveness movants have cast into serious
The dispositive issue on these motions is whether, despite
the extensive analysis contained in its EA, the Service was
arbitrary and capricious in finding that the project would have
no significant impact.
A. Statutory and Regulatory Framework
Regulations guiding federal agencies in determining whether
an EIS is required call for the completion of an environmental
assessment ("EA") to provide "sufficient evidence and analysis
for determining whether to prepare an environmental impact
statement or a finding of no significant impact." 40 C.F.R.
§ 1508.9(a)(1) (1990). This analysis is to "include brief
discussions of the need for the proposal, [and] of
alternatives." 40 C.F.R. § 1508.9(b).
In addition, Postal Service regulations require each EA to
1) A summary of major considerations and