U.S. District Court Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. sharply criticized the Federal Aviation Administration yesterday for a three-year delay in producing an environmental impact statement on Washington National Airport and other area airports.
"It is outrageous . . . what possible excuse can the government have for failing to produce an impact statement?" Bryan asked Justice Department attorney David Redmon in Alexandria federal court. "You assert it takes three and a half years to produce a . . . statement? . . . that's appalling," the judge said.
The judge ordered the federal government to produce the statement three years ago in response to a suit by a Virginia group seeking to divert commercial aircraft traffic from National to Dulles International Airport. The group contends that National Airport traffic is so congested that the facility is violating various federal environmental standards.
Federal officials yesterday asked Bryan for five more weeks to prepare a timetable for their delivery of the impact statement.
Pointing his finger at Redmon, the usually unflappable judge said, "Let me tell you something. I'll continue this for one week but then I want exact dates and times" for delivery of the statement. "I don't wany any more . . . fiddling around . . . I expect some movement over there," he said.
Redmon said the agency would comply.
After the hearing, Lawrence Latto, an attorney for a group called Virginians For Dulles, which is seeking the impact statement, said "I expected him (Bryan) to see it our way, but I didn't think he would be so forceful."
The proceeding dates to 1970, when the Dulles group filed a suit against the FAA, then-Transportation Secretary John A. Volpe and others, seeking to decrease aircraft traffic at Washington National Airport.
In 1972, Bryan heard the case and dismissed it. The case was appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, which in 1976 upheld Bryan's dismissal but ordered the government to produce a report on the impact of air traffic on people living near the various Washington area airports.
Although the FAA produced a preliminary report in 1978, the agency never produced a final version of it, which is the report the judge demanded yesterday.
Outside of court yesterday, Redmon said the delay was due to a combination of factors, including uncertainty over the future of National Airport personnel changes within various federal agencies and the pending Senate confirmation of Transportation Secretary-designate Neil Goldschmidt.
When Redmon had tried to make the same argument in front of Bryan, the judge dismissed it by saying, "the government's always changing Secretaries . . . the delay . . . is unacceptable."