Environmental groups file suit over Landstuhl hospital replacement plans
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Just as work is about to start on the Army’s replacement for its aging Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, two German environmental groups have filed lawsuits that threaten to derail preparations at the site.
Friends of the Earth Germany, or BUND, and the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, known as NABU, claim the German Ministry of Defense stripped the public of its right to voice concerns over the new hospital when it granted a U.S. Army request for a waiver to a German environmental law.
The waiver, approved by the ministry in August, allows the project to proceed without a full public notification and hearing process.
Army officials believe that process would have further stalled the project, which has faced years of delays as the military and Congress wrangled over the scope and cost of the new hospital.
The lawsuits come just as the Pentagon delivered its latest study on the project to Congress, according to a spokeswoman for Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Pentagon study “reportedly shows that all requirements can be met at ($990 million) instead of more than ($1.2 billion),” as the military had previously projected, Kathleen Long said in an email to Stars and Stripes. Levin’s staff hasn’t yet been briefed on the report, she said.
Congress previously approved $71 million for work to begin at the new hospital site on Rhine Ordnance Barracks, adjacent to Ramstein Air Base in western Germany. President Barack Obama requested $127 million more for the project in his fiscal 2013 budget request.
“We’re told the work should begin in October,” Long wrote. “We don’t expect any delays in construction at this time.”
Barring intervention from a German court, work at the site will go forward, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District, which is working closely with German agencies on the project.
“Currently, the (German Federal Ministry of Construction) is proceeding with administrative and contracting activities already planned in support of meeting environmental requirements,” according to a statement provided by corps spokesman Brian Temple.
An environmental report prepared by the Construction Ministry and submitted to the Defense Ministry in March calls for relocating some plants and animals, installing bird nests and building protective fences for some amphibians at the site, according to the corps. Solicitations to begin that work, as well as some tree-cutting, have been filed and are awaiting approval by German agencies, according to the corps.
“Based on current timeline of activities, species relocations and tree cutting is scheduled to occur between September 2012 and March 2013,” according to the corps’ statement.
The lawsuits, which will be heard this month by an administrative court in Cologne, could stall those plans. Thomas Krämer, a court spokesman, said the cases are likely to be decided before the planned beginning of construction activities.
But a lawyer for the environmental groups said they would “most likely” appeal if the Cologne court rules in favor of the German Ministry of Defense, which is the defendant in both cases, a move that doesn’t necessarily delay the process, though the judge could do so while the case is reviewed.
The lawyer, Dirk Tessmer, said he understands the U.S Army’s interest in building the new hospital, but he cannot accept that nearly 120 acres “of forest are supposed to get cleared when we do not even know how much money the U.S. will release for the project.”
Tessmer said he believes it was illegal to exclude the public from the process, and said he doesn’t buy the argument that its exclusion sped up the project.