Monday, December 22, 2008

Town of Marshfield v. Federal Aviation Administration

Dec 18: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Case No. 07-2820. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has authority to prescribe aircraft approach and departure patterns in order to minimize noise and ensure safety. In 2002, the agency approved a change in the runway layout of Logan Airport in Boston to include a new runway and, at the same time, began a study of improved noise abatement measures. The outcome was the "Boston Overflight Noise Study" (BONS), conducted with advice and participation by various organizations.

In implementing BONS, FAA adopted some of the report's "phase I" measures for the rerouting of aircraft to increase use of Logan approaches and departures over the ocean with shoreline crossings at higher altitudes. In finding that these measures required no environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS), the FAA relied upon noise studies to measure the impact on surrounding communities. The Town of Marshfield, MA, opposed the new phase 1 measures, arguing that the new flight patterns would adversely affect its residents and sought review of the FAA's decision claiming violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), and the FAA's own rules.

In analyzing the NEPA issues and denying the petition for review, the Appeals Court determined that FAA's noise exposure finding "is adequately based." Additionally, the Appeals Court said, "Marshfield seems to assert that an EA or EIS was required so long as the phase 1 measures were 'highly controversial,' which it regards as covering any introduction of new noise over inhabited areas and with opposition by a town or city. Although FAA Order 10501.1E, para. 304, uses the phrase 'highly controversial,' it makes clear that controversy is not decisive but is merely to be weighed in deciding what documents to prepare."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).

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