Lake Tahoe Property Owners Sue Agencies Over Environmental Impact of Highway Expansion

On Tuesday, three plaintiffs,each alleging to be property owners on Sierra Sunset Lane in Douglas County Nevada, near Lake Tahoe, brought an action in the the District of Nevada alleging that the eleven defendants, each federal or state officials or agencies, violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in connection with the process followed to approve modifications to US Highway 50 near their properties. The modifications involve expansion of Highway 50 and the relocation of an “entrance/exit” to 1,056 feet north of its current location, changes plaintiffs allege will create safety hazards and affect their enjoyment of their properties.

The plaintiffs are Tahoe Cabin, LLC; Tahizzle, LLC; and Patrick K. Willis, Trustee of the Patrick K. Willis Family Trust (collectively, Plaintiffs). The defendants are the Federal Highway Administration; two individuals affiliated with the Central Federal Lands Highway Division; the United States Department of Agriculture and Thomas J. Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture; the Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and one affiliated individual; The Nevada Department of Transportation and one affiliated individual; and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and one affiliated individual (collectively, Defendants).

Plaintiffs allege that NEPA requires federal agencies to prepare a detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) before the “federal agency can act in a way that significantly affects the quality of the human environment.” Plaintiffs further allege that “When it is not clear whether an action requires the preparation of an EIS, the regulations direct agencies to prepare a document known as an environmental assessment (‘EA’) in order to determine whether an EIS is required.” Plaintiffs quote federal regulations: “an EA is a ‘concise public document’ that must‘briefly provide sufficient evidence and analysis for determining whether to preparean environmental impact statement or a finding of no significant impact.’ “

Plaintiffs alleged a flawed approval process for the modification. “ The FHWA-CFLHD [Federal Highway Administration and Central Federal Lands Highway Division] is aware of significant increases in traffic.It is aware of the significant increase in crash rates. Despite this knowledge, the FHWA-CFLHD is willing to bury its head in the sand and claim ‘no significant’ impact in order to push the … Project forward.” As things stand,“ Plaintiffs expect Defendants to commence work on the … Project shortly.”

The complaint contains only one cause of action: Violation of NEPA and the APA. Plaintiffs seek a judicial declaration that Defendants violated the statutes “by failing to prepare an EIS”; an injunction against proceeding with the project without complying with NEPA, including the preparation of an EIS; a declaration that the finding of no significant impact is invalid; and an award of fees and costs.

Plaintiffs are represented by Alling & Jillson,Ltd.