Shenandoah Valley Network v. Capka, No. 10-1954

Decided Feb. 17, 2012

When deciding to expand the I-81 corridor through Virginia, the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation had begun the standard “tiered” review process required for large and complex projects with potential environmental impacts. After studying both the sufficiency of meeting transportation needs alongside the environmental drawbacks, the Agencies published the results of the first tier of its plans in an Environmental Impact Statement and noted that all NEPA claims must be brought within 180 days.

Several environmental activist organizations filed suit alleging that the agencies violated NEPA by publishing and completing their first tier without waiting for a rail freight study to be completed and violated Due Process by publishing their final intentions after Tier 1, effectively making objections to Tier 2’s site-specific plans impossible because of the 180-day statute of limitations. The district court granted summary judgment to the agencies. It found that the agencies had already done studies on the effectiveness of using rail systems rather than expanding the roadway and that the requirements for the statute of limitations had been met.

The activist organizations appealed, but the Fourth Circuit dismissed. The court noted that the organizations misunderstood both the law and the district court’s opinion. Though the large-scale first tier for the project had been completed, the second tier requires evaluating site-specific alternatives for each part of the highway sought to be expanded. At that time, the organizations may be able to contest the agencies’ alternatives; however, “given the lack of an actual dispute, this case [was] not justiciable” and the appeal had to be dismissed.

Full Opinion

-C. Alexander Cable

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