The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL
Plaintiffs in this equity action, which was tried to the Court on the administrative record and subsequent affidavits, seek to set aside a permit granted by the Secretary of the Army at the instance of the Corps of Engineers. They claim that the Army failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321, et seq. The permit, issued to intervenor Chicago Bridge & Iron Company ("CBI") on February 16, 1977, allowed dredging and construction of an 850-foot pier at Victoria Bluff, South Carolina, situated near the Colleton River in Beaufort County. The pier is intended to accommodate a new CBI 1,000-ton derrick and large metal plate plant to be erected at this location. Plaintiffs are an association of some 5,000 local residents, many of whom have a continuing interest in conservation, and various established conservation and environmental groups. The coastal area in which the contemplated CBI project would be located is characterized by stretches of tidal marsh and waterways, and supports much wildlife. The community also contains many retirement residences, and is devoted primarily to agriculture and fishing.
Plaintiffs are making a serious effort to preserve a way of life in this relatively unspoiled area of the Atlantic Coast. They envision injury to endangered species and destruction of the location's ecological integrity and aesthetics. The new plant is viewed as a portent of further industrialization which will eventually overwhelm the quiet and peace of this community where many residents have come to appreciate the pleasures of its relatively simple living and the benefits of its unexploited natural qualities.
The State of South Carolina is conscious of these desirable conditions but sees a need for limited development of the area as a deep water industrial port to improve its employment and economy. Substantial land has been dedicated by the State to wildlife preservation in the immediate area. Other land is held by large estates. CBI will hire many local citizens as welders after providing the necessary training. This work is sorely needed since employment is low and the area is economically depressed. Various local chapters of the NAACP appeared in this proceeding as amicus and urged that the project go forward.
CBI, conscious of these conflicting considerations, has sought to accommodate environmental and conservation attitudes by setting up a substantial buffer zone around the plant which will substantially aid preservation of the existing ecology. The plant itself is conceded to cause no pollution of the water or air.
This delicate and difficult situation has been under continuous appraisal for several years. Many reports have been written and public hearings at various stages have occurred. The permit was approved by the Secretary of the Army in the dying moments of the last Administration and subsequently the grant of the permit was endorsed by Secretary of the Army Alexander.
The Court has thoroughly reviewed the course of the procedures followed which is accurately summarized in the proposed findings of fact submitted by CBI, which the Court adopts as its own and incorporates herein by reference. The record conclusively establishes that the Corps of Engineers acted independently of the company seeking the permit, carefully evaluated information supplied by the company, and brought analysis of additional relevant environmental considerations to bear on the final decision. The fact that much of the company's submission was quoted verbatim is irrelevant. There was independent consideration of the underlying facts.
Plaintiffs make much of the fact that a final recommendation went forward from the District Engineer, Colonel Wilson, without his consideration of the Final Supplement to the EIS. In making this recommendation Colonel Wilson considered not only the EIS, but the Draft Supplement, the Revised Draft Supplement (which included comments on the Draft Supplement), and other materials.
NEPA requires that the environmental consequences of major federal actions be given thorough consideration "at every important stage in the decision making process." Calvert Cliffs' Coordinating Committee v. Atomic Energy Commission, 146 U.S.App.D.C. 33, 449 F.2d 1109, 1118 (1971). However, the Act was not intended to create a bureaucratic nightmare in which form rather than substance governs. There is no doubt that the environmental consequences of the CBI project received full and careful consideration at the District Engineer level. The Final Supplement contained no significant information not already before the District Engineer in the Revised Draft Supplement. Furthermore, the Final Supplement and comments thereto were considered by Colonel Wilson's superiors before final approval was given to CBI. The failure of Wilson to consider the Final Supplement was at most a technical deviation in procedure. In any case it was of no consequence given the lengthy processing of this permit which ventilated all pertinent environmental considerations and brought them effectively to the attention of the deciding officials at all levels.
Plaintiffs also allege that defendants failed adequately to consider the long-range socioeconomic and economic repercussions which will necessarily flow from the permit grant. However, all immediate factors were appraised.
The CBI plant will not require any influx of workers after the construction phase. Local labor will be trained and hired for the welding. There are, though, two contiguous sites available for industrial expansion. A large tract is held by trustees who apparently have no present plans for development and who, in any event, can make no commitment. The other tract is owned by CBI and lies outside the buffer zone. Its future is uncertain. Future industrial development of some kind is likely. Yet there is little about such development that is not remote or speculative. Thus there is nothing sufficiently foreseeable to be appraised by an environmental study. Nothing suggests that the benefit to the general standard of living that may accrue in some quarters needs to receive environmental analysis. Such immediate and foreseeable socioeconomic and economic repercussions as could be considered under the circumstances were appraised for their environmental impact, and this is all the Act requires. There will be other ramifications of a secondary nature but there is no indication these are sufficiently concrete or ascertainable as to be anything but speculative as to impact.