In a letter to Ann Arbor’s mayor and city council, Noah Hall, executive director of the The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit, has raised the specter of an environmental lawsuit filed against the city of Ann Arbor. At issue is whether the city’s planned underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue violates the Michigan Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). The bond issuance for the project, for an amount not to exceed $55 million, was approved by city council at its Feb. 17, 2009 meeting. As of Friday, May 15, 2009, bonds have still not yet been issued, according to Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer. [text of Hall's letter]
Joining Hall as signatories to the letter are Henry L. Henderson (Natural Resources Defense Council), Stuart Batterman (environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan), David Yves Albouy (economics at the University of Michigan), Doug Cowherd (Sierra Club-Huron Valley Group), Tom Whitaker (Germantown Neighborhood Association), as well as two other Ann Arbor residents.
In an emailed response to The Chronicle reacting to a previous draft of Hall’s letter circulated two months ago (which covered substantially the same issues), Leigh Greden (Ward 3) stated: “A lawsuit alleging that the parking garage violates MEPA would be frivolous,” contending that the standard suggested by Hall would make any construction project non-compliant with the MEPA.
Still, based on background sources for The Chronicle, the project has been slowed somewhat by the extra unknown of a lawsuit. We’ll track this dispute as it evolves, and will hopefully be able to gain some insight into any planned next steps from councilmembers at their Sunday night caucus.
Meanwhile, what exactly is the MEPA standard to which Hall appeals in his letter to the Ann Arbor city council? Two key aspects to consider in evaluating a MEPA claim are (i) standing, and (ii) cause. The first relates to those who are allowed to bring a suit in a MEPA case.