On November 24, 2015, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York upheld the environmental review conducted for the Bayonne Bridge Navigational Clearance Program (the ” Project”), which will “Raise the Roadway” of the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate larger, more efficient vessels traversing the Kill Van Kull. The plaintiffs, Coalition for Healthy Ports, Natural Resources Defense Council, and two community organizations, had sued the Coast Guard and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (“Port Authority”), challenging the Coast Guard’s approval of the Project. Sive, Paget & Riesel represented the Port Authority in this matter.
In Coalition for Healthy Ports et al. v. U.S. Coast Guard, et al., the plaintiffs argued that the Coast Guard did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) because it failed to take the requisite “hard look” at the Project’s potential impacts with respect to induced growth, construction, cumulative impacts, and environmental justice. The plaintiffs also argued that the Coast Guard violated NEPA’s public participation requirements by relying on a non-public, proprietary model and data for its finding that the Project would not generate material induced growth. Finally, they argued that the Coast Guard should have prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) instead of relying on the more streamlined (yet comprehensive) Environmental Assessment (“EA”). The parties cross-moved for summary judgment.
After examining the EA and the extensive record, Judge Ronnie Abrams rejected all of the plaintiffs’ arguments, holding that the Coast Guard satisfied its obligations under NEPA. The Court found that the Coast Guard “adequately considered and disclosed” the Project’s induced growth impacts, even though the agency relied on the results of an expert’s proprietary model and data. Regarding construction, the Court found that the protective measures built into the Project rendered insignificant any potential temporary construction impacts. In addition, the Court found that the Coast Guard sufficiently analyzed the cumulative impacts of the Project and rationally concluded that the Project would not disproportionately burden minority or low income communities. The Court also ruled that the Coast Guard complied with NEPA’s public participation requirements and correctly determined that an EIS was unnecessary.
Thus, after over two years of litigation, during which the Project reached 50% completion, the Court granted the Port Authority and Coast Guard’s motions for summary judgment, denied the plaintiffs’ competing motion, and dismissed the case in its entirety. For more information about the Court’s recent decision, please contact Mark Chertok, Elizabeth Knauer, Katherine Ghilain, or Devin McDougall.