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STEWART PARK AND RESERVE COALITION v. SLATER

September 30, 2002

STEWART PARK AND RESERVE COALITION, INCORPORATED (SPARC); ORANGE COUNTY FEDERATION OF SPORTSMEN'S CLUBS, INC.; AND SIERRA CLUB, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
RODNEY E. SLATER, AS UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION; UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; KENNETH R. WYKLE, AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION; HAROLD J. BROWN, AS NEW YORK DIVISION ADMINISTRATOR OF THE FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION; FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION; LOUIS R. TOMSON, AS CHAIRMAN OF THE NEW YORK STATE THRUWAY AUTHORITY; NEW WEST PAGE 220 YORK STATE THRUWAY AUTHORITY; JOSEPH H. BOARDMAN, AS COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; AND NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Randolph F. Treece, Magistrate Judge

      MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs bring this action pursuant to various federal and state environmental and transportation laws. Specifically, Plaintiffs challenge the sufficiency of the joint federal and state environmental review regarding the proposed construction of an interstate highway exchange between Interstate 84 ("I-84") and Drury Lane as well as improvements to connecting roads to facilitate access to Stewart International Airport ("Stewart Airport") pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq., and the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA"), N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 8-101, et seq. Plaintiffs also allege that the Federal Defendants violated transportation laws, including section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, 49 U.S.C. § 303, and 23 U.S.C. § 111.

The State and Federal Defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b). Docket Nos. 31 & 33, respectively. Plaintiffs have cross moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Docket No. 37. The parties have consented to have the assigned U.S. Magistrate Judge conduct any and all further proceedings in this case, including the entry of final judgment, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and N.D.N.Y.L.R. 72.2. Docket No. 24. For the reasons that follow, the Federal and State Defendants' motions are granted and Plaintiffs' motion is denied.

I. Background

In 1969, the United States transferred ownership of the Stewart Air Force Base, which was approximately 1,552 acres, to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority ("MTA"). Gorton Aff. (Docket No. 31), ¶ 6. The MTA acquired the air base to create Stewart Airport as a fourth major airport to service the New York City metropolitan area. Id. The property adjacent to Stewart Airport was identified as necessary for transportation purposes, including airport access and expansion as well as compliance with Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") requirements. Id. at ¶ 7. In 1971, the New York State Department of Transportation ("NYSDOT") was statutorily authorized to acquire 8,675 acres of land adjacent to, and in the vicinity of, Stewart Airport for transportation purposes. Id. The land was obtained in the name of the People of the State of New York on behalf of the MTA and was obtained through both purchase and eminent domain. Id. at ¶¶ 7 & 8. These 8,675 acres became known as "Stewart Buffer Lands" or "Stewart Properties." Id.

In 1974, the MTA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ("NYSDEC") executed a revocable management agreement whereby the NYSDEC would manage the Stewart Buffer Lands on behalf of the MTA. Gorton Aff., ¶ 8. The agreement was terminable upon sixty (60) days notice. Id. In 1982, jurisdiction over Stewart Airport, including the Stewart Buffer Lands, was transferred from MTA to the NYSDOT. Id. at ¶ 11. After obtaining jurisdiction over Stewart Airport, the NYSDOT chose to continue management of the property through NYSDEC. Id. A portion of the Stewart Airport, i.e., Crestview Lake, has been managed by the Town of New Windsor under a revocable license with the NYSDOT. Id. at ¶ 22. This license expired in April 2002. Id. at ¶ 23.

In 1991, the New York State legislature ("the Legislature") directed the New York State Thruway Authority ("NYSTA") to acquire I-84. The Legislature transferred ownership of I-84 from the State of New York and the NYSDOT to the NYSTA effective March 19, 1992. In 1992, the Legislature also directed the NYSTA to undertake a project to provide direct access to Stewart Airport from I-84. Waite Aff. (Docket No. 31), ¶¶ 8 & 10. In 1992, the NYSDOT and the federal government issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement ("FEIS") analyzing proposals for the development of Stewart Airport. The development project was not implemented. Gorton Aff., ¶ 12. Intervening events, including the 1998 privatization of Stewart Airport and the permanent transfer of 5, 264 acres of the Stewart Properties rendered the 1992 FEIS obsolete. Thus, the State and Federal Defendants prepared new project proposals for improved access to Stewart Airport. See Def. Statement of Material Facts (Docket No. 31), ¶¶ 11 & 14.

On December 10, 1997, the State and Federal Defendants published a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") relating to the improvement project in the Federal Register. Notices of Scoping meetings were sent out on December 12, 1997 and two scoping meetings were held on January 14, 1998. On April 5, 1999, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement ("DEIS") was released. On April 9, 1998, a Notice for a Public Hearing and availability of the DEIS was published in the Federal Register. On May 12, 1998, a public hearing was held and comments on the DEIS were allowed until June 1, 1999. See id. at §§ 24-26

After comments were received, the State and Federal Defendants made revisions to the DEIS. On April 14, 2000, the State and Federal Defendants released a FEIS, which selected Alternative 5b, Option 3 as the preferred design ("the Project"). The Project consists of: (1) a new diamond interchange at I-84 and Drury Lane at the existing Drury Lane overpass; (2) a new four-lane east-west connector roadway from Drury Lane to "C" Street; (3) reconstructing "C" Street to four lanes with a landscaped median; (4) modifications to Bruenig Road at the "Loop" in from the Stewart Airport passenger terminal' (5) widening of Drury Lane to four lanes between the new I-84 interchange and the new east-west connector roadway; and (6) improvement to and/or realignment of the two-lane section of Drury Lane from I-84 to Route 17K and from the new east-west connector roadway to Route 207. Gorton Aff., ¶¶ 17-18; Nardone Aff., ¶ 4; Waite Aff., ¶¶ 13-14. On June 23, 2000, the Federal Defendants issued a Record of Decision documenting their decision to select Alternative 5b, Option 3. On July 11, 2000 and February 1, 2001, the State Defendants issued their Records of Decision documenting their selection of Alternative 5b, Option 3.

This action followed.

II. Standard of Review

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate only where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The moving party bears the burden to demonstrate through "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any," that there is no genuine issue of material fact. F.D.I.C. v. Giammettei, 34 F.3d 51, 54 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-movant must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial," and cannot rest on "mere allegations or denials" of the facts submitted by the movant. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see also Rexnord Holdings, Inc. v. Bidermann, 21 F.3d 522, 525-26 (2d Cir. 1994). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. Nora Beverages, Inc. v. Perrier Group of Am., Inc., 164 F.3d 736, 742 (2d Cir. 1998).

This action is a review of an agency decision and therefore, is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"). See Sierra Club v. Penfold, 857 F.2d 1307, 1315 (9th Cir. 1988). Under the APA, the court's review is generally limited to determining whether an agency's decision was arbitrary, capricious or not in accordance with law. See 5 U.S.C. § 706.*fn1 In determining whether an agency's decision was arbitrary or capricious, "a court may not substitute its judgment for that of [the] agency." Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 216 (1971) (internal quotations and citation omitted). Rather, the court must only determine "whether the agency's decision `was based on a consideration of the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of judgment.'" State of N.Y. Dep't of Social Servs. v. Shalala, 21 F.3d 485, 492 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n. of the U.S. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983)).

Within the context of NEPA and SEQRA, the scope of review is narrow. See Strycker's Bay Neighborhood Council v. Karlem, 444 U.S. 223, 227 (1980). The court's review is limited to a determination of whether the agency took a "hard look at environmental consequences." Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council, 490 U.S. 332, 350 (1989) (quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Akpan v. Koch, 555 N.Y.S.2d 16, 20 (1990). NEPA does not mandate a particular result, "but simply prescribes the necessary process." Robertson, 490 U.S. at 350 (citations omitted). SEQRA also gives "agencies considerable latitude [in] evaluating environmental effects and [in] choosing between alternative measures." Akpan, 555 N.Y.S.2d at 20.

Similarly, while the requirements of section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act are stringent, the court's review is limited to determining whether the Secretary of Transportation's decision was wholly unreasonable or whether the Secretary failed to follow the necessary procedural requirements. See Adler v. Lewis, 675 F.2d 1085, 1091 (9th Cir. 1982); see also National Parks & Conservation Ass'n v. F.A.A., 998 F.2d 1523, 1532 (10th Cir. 1993).

III. Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act

Plaintiffs contend that the Secretary of the Department of Transportation violated section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act when he determined that the Stewart Buffer Lands and the Crestview Lake Property were not entitled to section 4(f) protection.

Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act states in pertinent part:

The Secretary [of Transportation] may approve a transportation . . . project . . . requiring the use of publicly owned land of a public park, recreation area, or wildlife and waterfowl refuge of national, State, or local significance . . . only if . . . there is no prudent and feasible alternative to using that land; and the . . . project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the park, recreation area, wildlife and waterfowl refuge. . . .

49 U.S.C. § 303(c).

In order for land to be afforded section 4(f) protection, two conditions must be met. "[F]irst, . . . the land must be publicly owned, and second, the land must be from one of the enumerated types of publicly owned land. . . ." National Wildlife Fed. v. Coleman, 529 F.2d 359, 370 (5th Cir. 1976); see also Geer v. FHA, 975 F. Supp. 47, 67 (D.Mass. 1997). Here, there is no dispute that the land in question is publicly held. Indeed, it is owned by NYSDOT. The issue is whether any or all of the Stewart Buffer Lands or the Crestview Lake Property were designated or administered as a public park, ...


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