Clinic urges environmental study for I-94 expansion

 At Wayne State University Law School, students in the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic are trying to make sure a new environmental review is performed for a proposed $2.7 billion expansion to Interstate 94 in Detroit.

The clinic, under the direction of Assistant (Clinical) Professor Nick Schroeck, works with the nonprofit Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and – on some selected issues – represents community organizations and public-interest groups.

In the case of the I-94 expansion through the center of Midtown Detroit – going from six lanes to 10 lanes and adding service drives from Interstate 96 to Connor Avenue – proposed by the Michigan Department of Transportation, the clinic and the center are working together with a coalition of community and environmental groups concerned about the plan, Schroeck said.

The expansion plan was proposed in the 1990s when John Engler was governor. A lot has changed in the area since then, Schroeck said.

Third-year Wayne Law student Adam Taylor of Monroe is one of the clinic students who extensively researched aspects of the I-94 expansion plan.

“My job with the clinic was to research the I-94 expansion project’s final environmental impact statement, which was completed 10 years ago,” Taylor said. “I was focusing on the issue of whether the (environmental assessment) was still valid or if a new one was required. Based on my research, I determined that the (assessment) was not valid and that re-evaluation and a supplemental environmental impact statement is required.

“We had meetings with community groups and interested persons where we heard their concerns in regard to the expansion. I then wrote a legal letter, putting forth our reasons and the legal basis for the re-evaluation and a supplemental statement, which was sent to the required agencies in charge of the expansion project.”

Schroeck signed the 14-page letter in his role as executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and on behalf of nine other groups, including the Sierra Club’s Southeast Michigan Chapter and MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength), a congregation-based Detroit social justice organization.

“We identified several significant changes to the project area since the (environmental assessment) was completed,” Schroeck said. “Those changes include population trends, decrease in vehicle miles traveled and the creation of a regional transportation authority and associated changes to public transit. We also noted several failings with the (original environmental) analysis, including lack of appropriate study on public transportation, community health impacts, environmental justice concerns and climate change.”

For Taylor, the work was a chance to gain hands-on experience.

“I had an amazing experience where I learned a great deal,” he said. “I would highly recommend the clinic to law students because it’s one of the places in law school where a student can work on projects just as one would when practicing as a licensed lawyer.”

Third-year Wayne Law student Patrick Tully of Boston also has worked in the clinic on a number of issues, including the I-94 expansion project, for which he researched the authorization and approval process for road projects in Michigan.

“My work on the project consisted largely of legal research regarding supplemental environmental impact statements under the National Environmental Policy Act to ensure the project is kept within the bounds of the act,” Tully said. “My research looked into whether the agencies would have to conduct another environmental impact statement to supplement the one they did 10 years ago to address the significant changes to the city and the surrounding area of the project. As of now, MDOT has not committed to conduct a new environmental impact statement. I am hopeful my research can change that.”

Tully plans a career in environmental law and has been inspired by his clinic work at Wayne Law.

“The clinic offers a hands-on approach to environmental law and regulation, while simultaneously giving students the opportunity to make a difference in our community,” he said.