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KNOWLES v. USCG

May 8, 1996

TERRANCE KNOWLES and LAWRENCE EBNER, Plaintiffs, against THE UNITED STATES COAST GUARD, THE COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY, THE ADVISORY COUNCIL ON HISTORIC PRESERVATION, and THE UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KEENAN

 JOHN F. KEENAN, United States District Judge:

 Before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 65, seeking to bar the United States Coast Guard (the "Coast Guard") from proceeding with its plan to close its Support Center on Governors Island pending the Coast Guard's compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 ("NEPA"), 83 Stat. 852, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. Also before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), or in the alternative for summary judgment, on the ground of Plaintiffs' lack of standing. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, grants Plaintiffs leave to amend the complaint to the extent set forth below, and denies Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. The Court holds Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), or in the alternative for summary judgment, in abeyance pending the receipt of supplemental memoranda of law.

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction preventing the imminent departure of the Coast Guard from its Support Center on Governors Island. Plaintiffs claim that the Coast Guard, motivated by economic concerns, made the decision to abandon the island without taking the "hard look" at the environmental consequences of its decision required by NEPA. Plaintiffs specifically allege that the Coast Guard violated NEPA by issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact ("FONSI") based on an Environmental Assessment ("EA") of the effects of closing the Support Center. Plaintiffs contend that NEPA required the Coast Guard to prepare a more rigorous and comprehensive analysis of the effects of closure, known as an Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS"), before making its decision to close the Support Center. Because the Coast Guard plans to begin transferring major personnel and operational units from Governors Island on May 10, 1996, this matter has been dealt with on an expedited basis. The Court heard oral argument on May 1, 1996, and now makes the following findings of fact. Governors Island 1

 Governors Island comprises approximately 175 acres in New York Harbor, just south of the borough of Manhattan and west of the borough of Brooklyn. During most of the last three centuries, the island has served as a military facility, first for the Department of the Army and, since 1966, for the Coast Guard. Because of its strategic location, the island has played roles in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II.

 Governors Island has a rich and colorful history. In 1637, the Dutch West India Company purchased the island from Native Americans "for two ax heads, a bunch of string beads and some iron nails." Stefan Fatsis, Big-City Plans for a Tiny Island Village, Wall Street J., Mar. 29, 1996, at B12 (hereinafter "Big-City Plans"). Originally called "Pagganck" by Native Americans, the current name of the island derives from the early residence there of New Amsterdam's first governor, Wouter Van Twiller.

 Governors Island has been put to diverse uses throughout its history, including use as a tobacco plantation (1639), a quarantine station for Palatine Germans (1710), a military station for American Revolutionary War troops (1776), a prison for Confederate Soldiers during the Civil War (1862), and a secure meeting place for important officials, including Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev (1988). In 1913, the island also served as a depository for debris from the construction of the New York City subway system, which restored the island to its present size after erosion had dwindled it from 170 acres in the early 1600s to only 70 acres in 1900.

 Governors Island retains numerous structural legacies of its military past. Two fortifications known as Fort Jay and Castle Williams, built in the late 1700s and early 1800s, respectively, still stand. In addition, the island's northern half was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1985. More than sixty structures and elements have been designated as "contributing elements" of the National Historic Landmark.

 Governors Island currently houses the Coast Guard's New York Support Center. The Support Center is the Coast Guard's largest facility in the world and serves as a base for approximately twenty-five Coast Guard command operations. The island has approximately 4,000 residents, 115 buildings, and recreation areas that include a parade ground that is also used as a nine-hole golf course.

 Over the years, the Coast Guard has repeatedly considered closing the Support Center on Governors Island for budgetary reasons. Most recently, in 1989, and again in 1993 and 1994, the Coast Guard conducted formal studies to assess the operational and economic ramifications of closing the Support Center. The Coast Guard determined from the studies that it could save approximately $ 33 million per year by ceasing operations on Governors Island.

 The Coast Guard thereafter hired a private environmental consulting firm to prepare an Environmental Assessment ("EA") to assess whether closure of the Support Center would have a significant environmental impact within the meaning of NEPA. In February 1995, the Coast Guard made a draft EA available to various agencies, organizations, and other potentially interested parties for public comment. The Coast Guard also published notice of the availability of the draft EA in the Governors Island Gazette.

 In response to comments and criticisms it received, the Coast Guard revised the draft EA. In June 1995, the Coast Guard published notice of the availability of a final EA and a draft FONSI for comment in the Federal Register, the New York Daily News, and the Governors Island Gazette. The Coast Guard also mailed copies of the final EA and draft FONSI to approximately 60 agencies, organizations, and interested parties. After receiving and responding to further agency and public comment, Coast Guard officials signed the Governors Island FONSI on August 2, 1995. On October 16, 1995, the Coast Guard Commandant approved the plan to close the Support Center. As noted above, the first waves of relocation of personnel are scheduled to begin on May 10, 1996. The closing of operations on the base is to continue throughout the summer, with the final closing day expected to be at the end of August 1996. See Feb. 27 Hearing Tr. at 4.

 The Instant Action

 Plaintiffs commenced this lawsuit with the filing of a pro se complaint on February 9, 1996. At the time of the filing of the complaint, plaintiff Terrance Knowles was employed as an Environmental Protection Specialist to the Coast Guard on Governors Island. *fn2" Plaintiff Lawrence Ebner is a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel residing in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Plaintiffs bring claims against the Coast Guard, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency under NEPA, the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq., the National Historic Preservation Act ("NHPA"), 16 U.S.C. § 470 et seq., the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, the Civil Service Act of 1883 (the Pendleton Act), and various federal ethics regulations. Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction seeks to enjoin only the Coast Guard, although all Defendants oppose the motion. Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief solely under NEPA. *fn3"

 Together with the filing of the pro se complaint on February 9, 1996, Plaintiffs moved by Order to Show Cause for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. On the same day, United States District Judge Charles S. Haight, sitting in the Emergency Relief Part, Part I, denied Plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order, finding that Plaintiffs had made an insufficient showing of irreparable harm to warrant such relief. Judge Haight also scheduled a hearing on Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction to take place before United States District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan later that month. After an initial conference before Judge Kaplan, and before the hearing could be held, the action was reassigned to the writer. Plaintiffs retained legal counsel during the pendency of this preliminary injunction motion, and thus no longer proceed pro se.

 Plaintiffs are chiefly concerned with the impact closure will have on Governors Island's historic structures. They also express concern with the ultimate disposition of the island after the closure process is complete. Plaintiffs anticipate that the Coast Guard will "excess" the Island after the closure process is complete, setting the stage for public sale of Governors Island by the General Services Administration.

 There is no question that there is an abundance of interest in the future of Governors Island. Already, the City of New York has established a task force on the future of the island. "Architects, developers, urban planners, civic leaders and government officials are (also reportedly) eying the island[,] [with] ideas . . . ranging from a gambling casino to one writer's fanciful Grateful Dead theme park. Other suggestions: high-rise apartments, a new city neighborhood, an educational institution, a corporate conference center." Big-City Plans, supra; see also Robin Pogrebin, Setting Sail with Yoga: 'Om' Helps Ease Stress of Base's Closing, N.Y. Times, Mar. 30, 1996, at A2 ("With breath-taking views of Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty, the island also represents one of the most prime pieces of real estate in New York City."); Robert Monroe, Governors Island Sale Tantalizes Developers: Coast Guard Plans to Close Base in 1998, Sun-Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale), Oct. 22, 1995, at 6A ("Developer Donald Trump says the island is 'great visually, great artistically and great for security' - conjuring visions of a moated, high-rise community for the mega-rich."). *fn4"

 While this action raises a multitude of issues of public concern, the Court addresses only two on the instant applications: first, whether Plaintiffs have standing to maintain this action and, second, whether Plaintiffs have established that preliminary injunctive relief is warranted. The Court examines each in turn below.

 CONCLUSIONS OF ...


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