Status of Bridgeton Suits Against St. Louis and FAA over Runway Expansion

by Mayor Conrad Bowers, Bridgeton
Bridgeton [Missouri] Banner, March/April 1999


Bridgeton city officials have received many questions concerning the legal actions taken to protect our city from the W-1W [St. Louis] airport proposal. This issue of the Banner provides an overview of legal actions, the reasons, and the status.

Two separate legal actions are being pursued by the City of Bridgeton. The first action is in the State court and is based on a city's right to control zoning and development activities within their municipal limits. The second action is in the Federal Court of Appeals and is challenging the Federal Aviation Agency on the process utilized in the approval of the W-1W proposal.


STATE COURT

The trial was held during January in the Circuit Court in the City of St. Louis. Judge Henry Autrey was the presiding judge. Three separate issues were argued by the Bridgeton and St. Louis attorneys. The first issue arises from the fact that Missouri Statute sec. 305.200(3) prohibits an airport proprietor from locating an airport in violation of a city's zoning ordinance. Alternative W-1W would locate Lambert in violation of Bridgeton's zoning ordinance and thus is prohibited by the statute. St. Louis argued that the statute only applies to completely new airports, and not to expansion of an existing airport.

We believe the statute by its express terms applies categorically to all airports and applies to the new runway, without the limit St. Louis wants the court to apply and which limit is not in the statute. The second issue involved the governmental immunity ordinance passed by the Bridgeton City Council during 1992. Quite simply, this ordinance allows your City Council to sit as an administrative body and determine the terms by which any intruding governmental unit can be granted variances from the Bridgeton zoning ordinance for a governmental use. The third issue involved a legal concept referred to as "balancing of interests". Using this concept St. Louis attorneys argued that the new W-1W is so important to the metropolitan area that Bridgeton can be devastated for the so called common good.

Even if the "balancing of interests" concept is valid in context of a new airport runway, the benefit of W-1W is questionable and this questionable benefit has been validated by two professional groups. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) have opposed constructing the W-1W runway.


Reasons for State Legal Action

Regardless of an individual's position on the W-1W runway most agree with Bridgeton elected officials that a city must have the ability to have meaningful input for a project sponsored by an intruding governmental body. (Examples: Cities and special districts like fire, school that intrudes upon a host city.) Our governmental immunity ordinance provides this capability and not only should be upheld but also become a model for other communities. Officials of St. Louis apparently believe that the airport is so important that all airport activities should be exempt from any of Bridgeton's zoning or building permit requirements. In fact, the current W-1W proposal leaves a Bridgeton park with no access, two city parks that will be noise sinks with no practical value and a golf course completely surrounded by airport property with questionable access routes. In addition, our new police facility and renovated City Hall complex is designated as an optional purchase for the W-1W runway, whatever that means.

The most important reason for state legal action needs to be emphasized and that reason is the future of the City of Bridgeton. If the City of St. Louis can infringe at any time on the remaining parts of Bridgeton in the name of the airport without any meaningful input from Bridgeton elected officials it is hard to imagine Bridgeton's future. In the view of many the airport would creep south in the future with related airport activities, decimating real estate values and the ability of Bridgeton to provide city services. Do we rely on the good intentions of an Airport Director or Mayor of the City of St. Louis? Your elected officials do not believe that this approach is good for any part of the City of Bridgeton.


Status of State Legal Action

Post trial briefs prepared by attorneys for Bridgeton and St. Louis were presented to the court on February 23rd. Although, there is no deadline by which Judge Autrey must issue his decision, at the time this article was prepared a decision was expected at the end of March or during April. The losing party would have 40 days after the judges decision to file an appeal. And it is expected that the losing party will appeal. The ultimate ruling by the Missouri appellate courts in the state legal action is important to all municipal governments.


FEDERAL COURT OF APPEALS

The City of Bridgeton, St. Charles County and the City of St. Charles have challenged decisions made by the FAA during the W-1W runway approval process. Two principal arguments were presented by the City of Bridgeton. First, the City of Bridgeton argued that the FAA violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to give adequate consideration to the northern family of expansion alternatives known as NE-1A, NE-1 and N-1. NEPA requires that the FAA consider reasonable alternatives to the W-1W plan and that it's decisions to reject alternatives must be reasonable and supported by substantial evidence. It is believed the FAA breached that duty because it relied on inadequate and incorrect information in concluding that the northern family of alternatives could not satisfy Lambert's expansion objectives.

Second, Bridgeton argued that the FAA violated parts of the Transportation Act which prohibits the FAA from using among other things, park land or historic sites for the W-1W runway if there is a prudent and feasible alternative that does not require the use of park land or historic sites. The FAA did violate sections of the Transportation Act by failing to identify all property protected by the act. Also, the FAA has tentatively approved the destruction of property without establishing there is not a prudent and feasible alternative to W-1W. Bridgeton park lands involved include Cardinal and Freebourn parks. The historic site is the Bridgeton Memorial Park across from St. Mary's which would be under the W-1W runway. Remaining parks that would be left and be useless for park related activities, include O'Connor and Oak Valley.

(See Opening Brief and Amicus Curiae Brief of TWA Pilots.)


Reasons for Federal Legal Action

It is surprising that many people have the misconception that the FAA chooses a plan for increasing airport capacity. For example, County Executive Buzz Westfall has stated that he knows nothing about airports and will rely on the FAA to choose the right way to enlarge Lambert.

The FAA does not choose a plan. The airport operator selects the preferred alternative or master plan. The City of St. Louis chose the W-1W proposal. The FAA works with the airport operator to ensure that the chosen master plan meets FAA minimum established criteria and after meeting this criteria the FAA issues a Record of Decision. The FAA does not even state that the chosen plan is the best plan, only that it does meet minimum FAA standards. Bridgeton is aware of disagreements by professionals within the FAA concerning capacity and safety issues related to the W-1W project. Unfortunately, the FAA refused to do a real time study which would have provided accurate information on the capacity and safety questions. These two factors, capacity and safety, are closely related because when operating any airport safety considerations may greatly reduce capacity expectations.

Because of the manner in which the City of St. Louis chose the W-1W plan over more cost effective alternatives many individuals feel that the plan was politically motivated.


Status of Federal Legal Action

Opening Briefs of Bridgeton, City of St. Charles and St. Charles County were filed March 3rd. Responsive Briefs to opening Briefs are due on April 22nd, 1999. Bridgeton, the City of St. Charles and St. Charles County will have the opportunity to provide reply briefs which will be due by May 6th. We are not certain when the court will schedule oral arguments but expect this to happen not earlier than late summer or the fall. A final decision is not expected until the end of 1999 or early 2000.

I hope the above provides readers a better understanding of Bridgeton legal efforts to resolve airport related issues. Our legal efforts are being made to protect the future of the City of Bridgeton. History has demonstrated how relying on the airport to do the right thing for our community can be devastating. During the 1980's under the current airport director's leadership a Kinloch tomorrow plan was developed and sold to area residents. We all know the status of Kinloch today.

The airport continues to buy property for the W-1W runway and Bridgeton will not and can not prevent the buyouts. Anyone has the right to sell their home to anyone they desire including the airport.

However, your city has the resources and the will to bring this issue to a conclusion that will protect the City of Bridgeton's future.