Monday, May 29, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Rail Is Better Than Road, Court Tells Enviro Group

(CN) - The 5th Circuit dismissed an environmental group's challenge to a rail line for a limestone quarry in Texas, saying the rail would cause less harm to endangered species than roads.

The Medina County Environmental Action Association sought review of a decision by the Surface Transportation Board and the Fish and Wildlife Service allowing the rail loop. It argued that the agencies should have considered the quarry and rail line as interrelated and provided a cumulative analysis of the phased development.

Environmentalists worried about the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and invertebrates living in karst limestone formations.

The transportation board granted Vulcan Construction Materials permission to build a seven-mile rail loop linking the Medina County, Texas, quarry to a Union Pacific rail line along Highway 90.

Vulcan voluntarily looked for warblers starting in 2000, finding a single warbler calling near the site in 2003. It also tracked the presence of karst cave insects.

The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that little suitable warbler habitat remained, since the area had previously been cleared for agriculture. Although some karst features were in the project area, none of the cave insects was discovered there.

The New Orleans-based appeals court denied the environmental group's request for review, finding that quarry development would occur regardless of the railway, so the two were not interrelated.

Because full development through all phases of the project was not certain, Chief Judge Carolyn Dineen King wrote, no cumulative analysis was required.

The court said Vulcan provided adequate mitigation measures, including a planned buffer zone and a promise to not clear land during warbler breeding season.

The rail line is better for wildlife than an "environmentally disruptive fleet of trucks," the three-judge panel concluded.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.