February 27, 2023
Complaint Filed Today Against Federal Highway Administration for Violating NEPA
An Environmental Impact Statement for the Eisenhower Drive Extension Project in York & Adams Counties must be pursued to fully assess environmental impacts and other alternatives
Wrightsville, PA – Today, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association – represented by the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic of Widener University Delaware Law School – filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration for violating the National Environmental Policy Act.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 sets forth substantive environmental quality goals for the government and the nation. Under NEPA, every agency of the United States Government must include an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in every “recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”
In January 2022, the Administration issued an Environmental Assessment (EA) regarding the Eisenhower Drive Extension, a highway construction project in York & Adams counties. The Project has received significant opposition from the local community over the years. In January 2023, the Administration concluded that a Finding of No Significant Impact determination was appropriate and further environmental review under NEPA would not be necessary.
This determination violates NEPA in that the Federal Highway Administration is engaging in a major federal action which significantly impacts the quality of the environment and has not conducted a satisfactory review of those potential harms and other feasible alternatives to alleviate traffic.
The action is controversial in that the Administration proposes to use federal funds to benefit private landowners in a way which has harmful effects on the integrity of the surrounding area and its natural resources. For these reasons, the Administration’s action is arbitrary, capricious, contrary to law, and therefore in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act as well.
“NEPA was the first modern federal environmental statute. It requires federal agencies take a “hard look” so that decisionmakers can make decisions that are fully informed about the environmental consequences of their decisions,” explained lead counsel Kenneth Kristl, Professor of Law and Director of the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic at the Widener University Delaware Law School. “This lawsuit results from the failure of federal and state highway officials to make that legally required hard look at the project.”
The project involves the construction of miles of new highway, covering or extensively degrading acres of active prime farmland, increasing pollutant-laden runoff into nearby streams, negatively and permanently impacting wetlands, and adversely affecting historic properties.
An EIS must include a formal public scoping process. Such a process is particularly needed for this project. Although some outreach was performed as the draft assessment was developed, this process was not appropriately advertised to the public and did not allow for public involvement and thus did not create an equal opportunity for participation by interested parties.
Yet, despite the fragmentary nature of the outreach efforts, a premature decision was made to eliminate project alternatives except the most preferred and grandiose option, the Eisenhower Drive Extension. Although a range of alternatives were initially prepared, the assessment limits itself to the legally required “no action” alternative and the preferred alternative, leaving only an “all or nothing” choice. Such a decision deprives interested parties of the opportunity to discuss in depth a full range of choices and the varied environmental impacts of those choices.
“Residents have become more and more concerned about the unchecked development and road to nowhere that will further destroy wildlife habitats, water quality, aquatic life, and vistas in the county and townships, said Ted Evgeniadis, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. Rather than constructing an unnecessary highway, elected officials should be more concerned over preserving land and water quality while repairing existing roads and infrastructure that require attention.”
Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association brings this action on behalf of its members, many of whom reside adjacent to or within the proximity of the project’s proposed location. The educational, aesthetic, and recreational interests of its members have been, are being, and will continue to be adversely affected and irreparably injured by the agencies’ failure to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to determine whether the Proposed Action will significantly impact the environment and wildlife at or near the project’s proposed location.