Fuller Park is a 60 acre area located at an oxbow bend of the Huron River in one of Ann Arbor’s first-acquired public parks. It is heavily used for its soccer fields and public swimming pool, as well as a route for the Washtenaw County Border to Border Trail. For the Ann Arbor Amtrak Station project, the Fuller Park alternative to the Depot Street location would permanently incorporate approximately 10 acres of Fuller Park on the south side of Fuller Road.
A train station and associated parking would substantially impact the south section, as well as the 50 acres of Fuller Park on the north side of the road via traffic congestion, noise, air quality, and would alter the visual quality of this river valley park. Consequently, the Fuller Park alternative must be evaluated under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) section 4(f) requirements, including the evaluation of other sites which might avoid this use of parkland.
The Role of NEPA Section 4(f) Lands in the Environmental Assessment Process
If a proposed alternative site for a Department of Transportation project requires the use of publically owned parkland, the site must be evaluated under NEPA Section 4(f) regulations:
Section 4(f) Lands (As part of an overall recodification of the DOT Act, Section 4(f) was amended and codified in 49 U.S.C. Section 303(c)).
Section 4(f) legislation, as established under the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966, states:
“The Secretary may approve a transportation program or project (other than any project for a park road or parkway under section 204 of title 23) requiring the use of publicly owned land of a public park, recreation area, or wildlife and waterfowl refuge of national, State, or local significance, or land of an historic site of national, State, or local significance (as determined by the Federal, State, or local officials having jurisdiction over the park, area, refuge, or site)] only if—
(1) there is no prudent and feasible alternative to using that land; and
(2) the program or project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the park, recreation area, wildlife and waterfowl refuge, or historic site resulting from the use.”
According to regulations, an alternative that avoids the use of parkland must be selected unless it is not “feasible and prudent.” An avoidance alternative is prudent and feasible if it “does not cause other severe problems of a magnitude that substantially outweighs the importance of protecting the Section 4(f) property” (Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402 (1971)). These problems can include issues of safety, engineering, economics, environmental, and social impacts. The ability of the site to fit the Purpose and Need statement is also a consideration.
It is our contention that the current Amtrak station location on Depot Street meets the prudent and feasible requirement for the purpose under evaluation and, thus, appropriately avoids the use of parkland in Fuller Park. The fact that sites on Depot Street have served for a train station for over 175 years is certainly evidence to that point.
We are concerned that the Purpose and Need statement submitted by the City to the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) has been worded in such a way that it goes beyond describing the inadequacies of the existing station structures and facilities, to alleging limitations of the location itself that we believe are untrue. Given that part of the process for evaluating the alternatives is to assess how well each alternative addresses the stated needs, it is crucial that the statement of needs present an accurate, not a biased, picture.