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Highlands Ranch Neighborhood Coalition v. Cater

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 26, 2019

HIGHLANDS RANCH NEIGHBORHOOD COALITION, a Colorado non-profit corporation, Plaintiff,
JOHN M. CATER, in his official capacity as the Division Administrator, Colorado Division of the Federal Highway Administration, THE FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION, SHAILIN P. BHATT, in his official capacity as Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, and THE COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Defendants.



         Plaintiff brought this lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief based on allegations that Defendants violated the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (“NEPA”). Plaintiff requested the Court to void the Finding of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”) on the C-470 Project and enjoin Defendants from conducting any further work. As relevant here, one issue was the methodology Defendants used to validate the Traffic Noise Model (“TNM”). Defendants used short-term noise measurements to validate, but Plaintiff argued that long-term measurements were required. Defendants followed Section 3.2.2. of the “Colorado Department of Transportation Noise Analysis and Abatement Guidelines” dated January 15, 2015 (the “2015 Guidelines”) to validate the TNM.

         In its Order of November 8, 2017, the Court found Defendants did not comply with NEPA because they failed to show their decision to take and use short-term noise measurements had a rational basis and that they took into consideration the relevant factors in deciding which validation methodology to use. Accordingly, the Court remanded the matter to Defendants for further consideration.

         Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration while Defendants filed a Joint Status Report (“Report”) (ECF No. 61) with a Re-evaluation that supplemented the administrative record for the C-470 Project. After reviewing the Report and Re-evaluation, the Court found Defendants failed to show they complied with their remand obligations; determined it should retain jurisdiction over Defendants' remand obligations; and vacated the final judgment. The Court remanded the matter back again for Defendants to comply with their remand obligations in the first remand order (ECF No. 50) and to address how Defendants could have relied on the 2015 Guidelines for validation actions taken in 2013 and 2014. See Sierra Club-Black Hills Grp. v. U.S. Forest Serv., 259 F.3d 1281, 1289 (10th Cir. 2001) (“When the agency record is inadequate, ‘the proper course, except in rare circumstances, is to remand to the agency for additional investigation or explanation.'” (quoting Florida Power & Light Co. v. Lorion, 470 U.S. 729, 744 (1985))). Defendants' Joint Report (ECF No. 64) followed, to which Plaintiff has filed no challenge or other response.

         The Court has considered the Joint Report (with supporting declarations from those involved with conducting the noise analysis at issue), the court record, and relevant parts of the administrative record and, upon such consideration, finds Defendants have discharged their remand obligations, i.e., substantiated their prior decisions and actions in compliance with NEPA. Based on the record now before the Court, it finds Defendants have provided a roadmap of their decision-making process, offered a rationale for their decision to use short-term measurements, and showed they considered relevant factors in deciding which validation method to use. In summary, Defendants have sufficiently shown:

• They considered the relevant factors, policies, and guidelines, including:
o The 2013 Guidelines, which were the guidelines in effect at the time the noise measurements were taken, including the 2006 User's Guide (also referred to as “Appendix C”);
o The 2011 Federal Highway Administration “Highway Traffic Noise: Analysis and Abatement Guidance”;
o The 2015 Guidelines, which updated the 2013 Guidelines, as those were in effect at the time the July 2015 Traffic Noise Technical Report was completed;[1] and
o That the 2015 and 2013 Guidelines were materially the same, thus there were no required updates to the noise analyses for the C-470 Project.

         • They offered a rational basis for deciding to take and use only short-term noise measurements, including:

o Why the methodology in the 2006 User's Guide was not used;
o Why long-term noise measurements were ...

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