Case 29

Dixon v. Coleman, No. A-C-77-24 (W.D.N.C. May 4, 1977).

Plaintiffs brought suit to enjoin the construction of a portion of an interstate highway, alleging that the Secretary of Transportation had violated the National Historic Preservation Act, Executive Order No. 11593, Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, and Section 15(a) of the Federal-Aid Highway Act by failing to consider the effects of the project on a nearby historic house known as Zealandia. The highway route was to pass near the house but not through the estate. Plaintiffs' concerns were that blasting associated with the project would damage the house.

During the planning stages, defendants had consulted with State agencies and were told that there were no historic sites that would be affected by the project. Later, the Department of Transportation learned from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that Zealandia might be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Soon after, the construction contract was awarded and construction began. The State Historic Preservation Officer then concluded that the house was qualified for the Register. Zealandia was actually placed on the Register while the lawsuit was in progress.

The court denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that plaintiffs were not likely to succeed on the merits of their case. Not only did the evidence show that defendants had complied with the applicable laws, but plaintiffs had produced no convincing evidence at trial that the blasting would damage Zealandia. In addition, the project had reached a stage at which compliance with the environmental and historic preservation laws would no longer have force or meaning. Slip op. at 14.

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