Finding of No Significant Impact
Adoption of Federal Highway Administration Environmental Assessment (EA)
U.S. 231 bridges across Tennessee River
Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT)
Section 26a approval for fill and bridges across Tennessee River associated with the proposed six-lane construction of U.S. 231, Tennessee River Mile 333.3, Wheeler Reservoir, Madison and Morgan Counties, Alabama
ALDOT has submitted an application to TVA for placement of fill and bridge replacements associated with the six-lane construction of U.S. 231 across the Tennessee River and its floodplain south of Huntsville. The project would involve the replacement of the existing southbound and northbound river bridges, as well as two southbound relief bridges in the floodplain. The northbound relief bridges would be widened, and the elevated roadways across the Tennessee River floodplain would be widened. In association with the road widening and bridge construction, 4.95 acres of wetland would be filled. An approval under Section 26a of the TVA Act would be needed for these obstructions in the Tennessee River and its floodplain.
Initial coordination with agencies on the proposed U.S. 231 project began in 1999 through consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the potential for the project to affect endangered and threatened species. Coordination with other federal and state agencies and Indian tribes continued in 2000 and 2001.
An EA was completed by ALDOT and FHWA, and released to the public in May 2001 (to obtain a printed copy of the EA, see Note). The EA indicated that there would likely be floodplain and wetland impacts. The project also was announced to the public by the USACE, TVA, and the State of Alabama through Joint Public Notice 01-39 on May 25, 2001. Responses were received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Alabama Historical Commission (AHC), VanNess Feldman (Attorney for Robinsong Ecological Services), and John Howell.
FWS stated that no significant adverse effects on fish and wildlife resources were expected if best management practices and wetland mitigation were implemented and the reasonable and prudent measures and terms and conditions as set out in the 18 February 2000 Biological Opinion (BO) were followed. AHC indicated that consultation under Section 106 was ongoing but had not yet been completed. This consultation was later completed through preparation of two MOAs, dated April 24, 2001 and September 10, 2001.
VanNess Feldman stated that mitigation of the proposed project through the Robinsong Ecological Resources Inc. wetland mitigation bank, which is in the same watershed as the U.S. 231 project, is to be preferred over the proposed mitigation in the Jackson County Mitigation Bank or Tuscaloosa County (Sipsy) banks. Because the Sipsy and Jackson County banks have been established specifically for the mitigation of highway wetland impacts and the proposed mitigation would compensate for the impacts of the highway project, the agencies prefer to use banks consistent with the mitigation agreement.
Finally, John Howell, an adjacent property owner, expressed concerns over the impacts to his property from drainage from the highway. In response, ADOT has indicated that they would design drainage to avoid affecting Howells property.
A public hearing was held by ALDOT on July 12, 2001. During the environmental review process, FHWA initiated formal consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act which led to issuance of an incidental take permit for the pink mucket pearly mussel and rough pigtoe pearly mussel. Also, FHWA completed consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act which led to Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) on preservation in place and data recovery for archaeological site 1Ma10 and documentation in the Historic American Engineering Record of the C.C. Clay Bridge, one of 15 memorial toll bridges built by the Alabama Bridge Corporation in 1931.
By letter of August 6, 2001, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management issued Water Quality Certification for the project under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. FHWA and ADOT approved a final EA and FONSI on September 14, 2001. USACE determined that the FHWA EA and FONSI was adequate for Department of the Army permit purposes after evaluating additional information on the suitability of the proposed wetland mitigation. USACE issued a Statement of Findings and FONSI on 10 October 2001.
The proposed road improvement involved formal consultation under the ESA and adverse effects under Section 106 of the NHPA. In addition, there were concerns expressed about the appropriateness of the wetland mitigation. As a result of these considerations, TVA decided that preparation of an EA would allow a better understanding and documentation of the impacts of the proposal and requested of ALDOT that TVA be made a cooperating agency in their effort to prepare an EA for the project. TVA was added to the EA as a cooperating agency. Further, TVA requested of FWS that TVA be added to the incidental take permit. By letter of March 20, 2002, FWS included TVA as an action agency in its Biological Opinion. TVA has determined that the impacts of its Section 26a approvals for stream obstructions associated with US 231 improvements are adequately assessed in the FHWA EA and FONSI of September 14, 2001. TVA adopts these documents as its own, based upon independent review of the project.
The EA prepared by the FHWA and ADOT assessed the impacts of two alternatives, the Preferred Alternative and the No-Build Alternative. The alternatives of postponing the action and alternate modes of travel were also considered, but were not discussed in detail. Selection of the No-Build Alternative would result in no additional physical environmental impacts, but would allow traffic and level of service to worsen over time. The Preferred Alternative would result in construction of the project as proposed. Road widening would result in fill of woodlands, farmlands, and wetlands lying within the 100-year floodplain of the Tennessee River. Thus, a small amount of wildlife habitat would be lost. The project has the potential to minimally affect water quality. The project also would cause minimal increases in flood heights and flood limits. There would be insignificant or no impacts to air quality, farmland, and human communities.
Incidental take of two endangered mussels is possible; however, with the implementation of measures to relocate mussels, the project is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the pink mucket or fine-rayed pigtoe mussels. The project would adversely affect the C.C. Clay Bridge and the Whitesburg Bridge archaeological site. However, these effects would be mitigated through recordation and archaeological data recovery.
TVA independently reviewed the impacts assessed in the FHWA EA and confirmed its findings. Although the FHWA EA did not address visual impacts, TVA determined that the proposed new bridges would be visually similar to the existing bridges, except that the new concrete bridges would have a lower vertical profile. There would also be some temporary visual discord during the construction period. However, once the new bridges are completed, visual impacts would be insignificant.
Approximately 4.95 acres of wetlands would be permanently impacted, including 4.8 acres of forested wetlands and 0.15 acres of emergent wetlands. Another 0.81 acres of forested wetlands would be impacted temporarily from construction of a detour road. After construction, the detour road would be removed, the site returned to existing contours, and the wetland area replanted with bottomland hardwoods. As mitigation for the wetland filling, ADOT will purchase a corresponding number of wetland credits (4.95) from the Jackson County Mitigation Bank. This bank is located within the same watershed. Further, the resources being created in the Jackson County bank are the same types of resources being impacted in the U.S. 231 project-bottomland hardwoods and emergent wetlands. Each credit purchased in the mitigation bank is equivalent to 2.5 wetland acres, thereby ensuring the creation of more than 12 acres of bottomland hardwood wetland as mitigation for the project.
TVA also evaluated the project for compliance with Executive Order 11988 on Floodplain Management. Some fill material would be placed in the 100-year floodplain. TVA has determined that there is no practicable alternative to routing the highway across the Tennessee River at this location because this project involves the expansion of an existing highway and it would be costly to move the highway to a new location. Madison and Morgan Counties are participants in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). All activities will adhere to the minimum standards of the NFIP and comply with local floodplain management regulations.
TVA is aware of additional planned projects in the Madison and Morgan County areas that would impact similar aquatic or terrestrial resources. Among these in the immediate vicinity are the proposed Huntsville Southern Bypass and the Martin Road Improvement project, which would impact forested and emergent wetlands within the Huntsville Spring Branch watershed. Mitigation required through Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and state permitting processes would reduce the cumulative impacts on wetlands in this area to insignificant levels. TVA believes that with the incorporation of standard Section 26a approval conditions and the commitments contained in the FHWA EA, the subject construction of US 231, when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions will not have a significant impact on the wetland functions and values in the Tennessee Valley region. The incremental impact of this project when combined with other actions will not be significant. All future actions will continue to be subject to the regulatory requirement that there be no net loss of wetland functions and values.
As indicated in the EA, two federally listed mussel species are found at the bridge site. The FWS prepared the February 18, 2000, Biological Opinion and the November 1, 2000 amendment prescribing reasonable and prudent measures to minimize the incidental take. These incidental take measures will be included as conditions in TVAs Section 26a permit. FWS, by letter of March 20, 2002, included TVA in the Biological Opinion as a federal action agency. Inclusion of these commitments in the Section 26a permit would allow TVA to conclude that the project, as modified, would not adversely affect endangered or threatened species. The list of USFWS required measures is presented in the Commitments Section.
TVA was not a signatory of the two MOAs prepared under Section 106 of the NHPA. FHWA acted as the lead Federal agency on behalf of TVA and other federal agencies with actions relating to the same project. TVA has reviewed the mitigation measures identified in the MOAs and concurs that the two MOAs adequately take into account the impacts of TVAs undertaking on the two historic properties.
TVA has critically and independently reviewed the FHWA EA and determined that the scope, alternatives considered, and content of the EA is adequate and that the impacts on the environment have been adequately addressed. TVA has decided to adopt the FHWA EA. The FHWA EA and FONSI is attached and incorporated by reference.
Based on the EA, we conclude that the Section 26a approvals for the bridge replacements and fills at the U.S. 231 Bridge across the Tennessee River would not be a major Federal action significantly affecting the environment. Accordingly, an environmental impact statement is not required..
Original signed by:
Date: May 13, 2002
U.S. 231 bridges across Tennessee River
Harold M. Draper,