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METLAKATLA INDIAN COMMUNITY v. ADAMS

February 25, 1977

METLAKATLA INDIAN COMMUNITY et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BROCK ADAMS, Secretary of Transportation et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT

 Plaintiffs in this action seek declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent defendants from taking further steps in the relocation of the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station from Annette Island, Alaska, to Sitka, Alaska. Plaintiffs' specific complaint relates to the removal of certain housing units as a part of the relocation. They assert primarily that defendants have not complied with certain requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. ยง 4331 et seq.. Defendants, by way of response, have moved for summary judgment.

 The Court held an extensive hearing *fn1" upon plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction and defendants' motion for summary judgment in the course of which additional evidence has been received. We conclude that defendants must prevail for the reasons hereinafter set forth.

 Factual Background

 Plaintiffs are the Metlakatla Indian Community (a community of Indians for whom Annette Island, Alaska, was set aside as a reservation by Congress in 1891) and three members of that community. Annette Island is located 20 miles south of Ketchikan and 200 miles south of Sitka. Federal presence on the Island commenced during World War II and has been continuous since then. The Coast Guard is the lessee of approximately 120 acres from the plaintiff Community.

 During 1971, the Coast Guard began serious consideration of the future of Coast Guard operations at Annette Island and possible alternatives. In 1972, the Coast Guard initially proposed the relocation of the Air Station to Sitka due to the Air Station's "lack of a strategic location for the prosecution of SAR [Search Air Rescue] operations throughout Southeast Alaska," and the need of providing better search coverage. During July 1974, the Coast Guard completed an environmental assessment of the impact which the proposed Sitka Air Station would have upon the Sitka area. The assessment concluded that the earlier negative statement was accurate in determining that construction of the Sitka Air Station would not have "any possible adverse effect on the quality of the human environment." Plaintiffs were notified shortly thereafter of this proposal.

 Also in 1974, Congress appropriated funds for the first phase of the move -- construction of a hangar and other facilities at Sitka. *fn2" The Coast Guard contacted the mayor of Metlakatla in February 1975, informing him that the Roland Village housing *fn3" was to be relocated to Sitka. *fn4" The mayor responded in May 1975, that the Indians were exercising their option under the Annette air field lease, scheduled to expire in 1978, to allow the Coast Guard to leave the housing foundations and to cap the utilities to safeguard them.

 In March 1976, the Coast Guard conferred with plaintiffs regarding plaintiffs' objections to the move. As a result of this meeting, the Coast Guard agreed to prepare an environmental assessment of the impact which the relocation would have upon Annette Island the assessment investigation continued through April and May, 1976. In mid-May, 1976, the Coast Guard, with representatives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Office of Economic Adjustment, and the General Services Administration, met with plaintiffs in a series of meetings to discuss the cumulative impact of the preceding Federal departures from Annette, as well as the impact of the planned relocation. Four months later, in September, 1976, after a draft environmental assessment had been prepared and reviewed by plaintiffs, the Coast Guard issued its final assessment. The statement concluded that the relocation would have no significant impact on the quality of the environment within NEPA.

 The mayor of Metlakatla subsequently, on November 3, 1976, advised the Coast Guard that he would not request the agency to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (hereinafter referred to as an EIS) relating to the relocation if the Roland Village housing was left on Annette. In response, the Coast Guard indicated a willingness to negotiate regarding these structures. Although plaintiffs had, during the protracted course of the relocation planning, made general inquiries regarding the purchase of Roland Village, no concrete offer of purchase has even yet been made to the Coast Guard.

 The Coast Guard on January 3, 1977, contracted to have Roland Village removed, and the contractor was ordered to proceed within sixty days. This lawsuit to prevent the removal of the Roland Village housing was filed on January 28, 1977, and is predicated on the Coast Guard's failure to file an EIS.

 Merits

 The specific issues in controversy are (1) whether the Coast Guard had a statutory obligation under NEPA to prepare an EIS relating to the relocation of the Annette Air Station, and (2) whether the environmental assessment by the Coast Guard of the Annette relocation was deficient and inadequate, and hence provided an inadequate basis for the agency's determination that an EIS would not be required.

 In pertinent part, NEPA provides that agencies of the Federal Government shall:

 
(c) include in every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, a ...

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