Judge Tosses D.C. Streetcar Radiation Claims


(CN) - A Northeast Washington, D.C., neighborhood association cannot sue the city for building a hazardous "barn" for a 37-mile streetcar system in a primarily black area, a federal judge ruled.
     The Kingman Park Civil Association sued D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in June 2013, seeking a court order barring the city from building the first 2.2 miles of the streetcar system.
     The track is to connect Benning Road to Union Station via the H Street corridor, which was prepped with new parking lanes, sidewalks, street lights and tracks starting in 2008.
     The neighborhood worries that track vibrations and noise might crack their walls and foundations, and that the massive excavation - which has begun - could affect air quality.
     But Gray's opposition states that the streetcars will be powered by "quiet electric motors" and an electrified wire suspended about 20 feet above the lane.
     The plaintiffs claimed that a "car barn" training center on the grounds of the Joel Elias Spingarn Senior High School - a historic landmark - will cause electromagnetic radiation.
     U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly declined to halt the construction in July last year, finding that the plaintiffs were unlikely to be irreparably injured by the project, as none of them alleged that they live or work near the Spingarn campus.
     The association is also "unlikely to succeed" on its claim that a 2010 law authorizing the streetcar system will harm black and low-income residents of Kingman Park, the ruling states.
     The city, on the other hand, "would be forced to expend hundreds of thousands of tax dollars" were the project delayed for even just a few months, the judge ruled.
     Kollar-Kotelly refused in August last year to let the association add a Fair Housing Act claim.
     Four days later, Gray sought dismissal or summary judgment; the association later moved to stay and for reconsideration of the order barring it from amending its complaint.
     Last week the judge partially granted the mayor's motion, finding that the neighborhood lacks standing to challenge installation of overhead streetcar wires.
     "The plaintiff's opposition fails to offer any explanation as to how the overhead wires would concretely affect any of the organization's programmatic concerns," Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
     But the judge said the plaintiff may challenge the construction on the Spingarn campus.
     "Defendant is now in the process of building a car barn, maintenance facility, and electrical substation on the grounds of an historic landmark plaintiff specifically sought to protect, an injury that is directly traceable to the conduct of the defendant, and would be redressable by an order from this court barring construction on the site of Spingarn Senior High School," Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
     The judge tossed aside the plaintiffs' fear of electromagnetic radiation, however, holding that their expert said that the possibility of detriment is "rather speculative and remote."
     The association's disparate-impact Equal Protection claim failed as well.
     "The plaintiff fails to identify any neighborhood, much less one that is a similarly situated non-African-American neighborhood - that has been treated more favorably than Kingman Park," Kollar-Kotelly wrote. "Simply alleging that defendant selected the Spingarn campus in an African-American community while other unidentified alternative sites were available is insufficient to demonstrate a racially discriminatory purpose behind defendant's actions."
     The judge dismissed, for failure to state a claim, all counts but those for Equal Protection and the D.C. Environmental Policy Act of 1989, which she held in abeyance until the city produces an environmental impact statement conducted before the Spingarn campus construction.
     The judge refused to let the association add a Clean Air Act (CAA) claim.
     "Simply alleging that excavation work has released certain materials into the air, without identifying whether this release violates a certain emissions standard, limitation, or order, is insufficient to meet the CAA's strict notice requirements," Kollar-Kotelly wrote.