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Under the Corps' Regulatory Program, a public notice is the primary method for advising all interested parties of a proposed activity for which a permit is sought. Soliciting comments and information necessary to evaluate the probable impacts on the public interest. Public notices are also published to inform the public about new or proposed regulations, policies, guidance or permit procedures.

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  SPK-2011-00775 PN Figures
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SPK-2011-00755 - UPRR, Great Salt Lake, Box Elder County, UT

Posted: 12/13/2013

Expiration date: 1/27/2014


CESPK-RD-U

SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, (Corps) is evaluating a permit application to authorize the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) Culvert Closure and Bridge Construction Project (Project). The current project is specific to the effects of the permanent closure of the East Culvert and construction of a proposed 180-foot bridge on the west end of UPRR Causeway across the Great Salt Lake to compensate for the closure’s impacts. The project would result in permanent impacts to approximately 0.17-acre of waters of the U.S. for closure of the East Culvert and 0.003-acre of waters of the United States for construction of the bridge. Construction of the bridge would also result in temporary impacts to approximately 1.28 acres of saline open water habitat in the Great Salt Lake to build a temporary shoofly rail. This notice is to inform interested parties of the proposed activity and to solicit comments concerning the application to construct the project. 

AUTHORITY: This application is being evaluated by the Corps under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act for the discharge of dredged or fill material in waters of the United States and by the State of Utah for Section 401 Water Quality Certification.

APPLICANT: Mark L. McCune, P.E.
    Director, Structures Design
    Union Pacific Railroad
    1440 Douglas Street, Stop 0910
    Omaha, Nebraska  68179-0910

LOCATION: The project corridor is located on the UPRR Causeway in the Great Salt Lake. The East Culvert is located approximately 5 miles west of Promontory Point. The 180-foot long bridge is proposed to be constructed approximately 5 miles east of the existing Rambo bridge opening on the west end of the Causeway at Lakeside, with associated temporary impacts related to construction of the temporary shoofly rail track located adjacent to the proposed bridge location. The project corridor is located in Box Elder County, Utah, and can be seen on the UT-LAKESIDE USGS Topographic Quadrangle and on the annotated Causeway aerial included in the public notice figures.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The current project is specific to authorization for permanent fill and closure of the East Culvert and the construction of a new bridge proposed to offset the impacts of the fill activity associated with permanent closure of the East Culvert and the West Culvert which was closed in November 2012. UPRR indicates that the deteriorating East Culvert needs to be permanently filled with rock in order to stabilize the structure and prevent catastrophic track failure. The fill work would occur from the embankment using a long-reach excavator to place the rock inside the box culvert and to place additional rock along the side slope of the Causeway to match the existing slopes (3:1 on the north side: 1.5.1 on the south side.) 

In July 2011, UPRR initially requested authorization to construct a new 180-foot long concrete-pile supported bridge on the west end of the UPRR causeway to replace the East and West Culverts installed in the 1959 section of the Causeway across the Great Salt Lake. The new bridge is proposed to provide bi-directional flow between the North and South Arms of the Great Salt Lake and is intended to replace this function previously provided by the two culverts. The bridge would also restore the possibility of small boat passage through the causeway which was their original intended function when they were constructed more than 50 years ago. 

To reroute rail traffic during construction of the proposed bridge, UPRR proposes to construct a temporary shoofly on the north side of the existing embankment adjacent to the proposed bridge location (see Figure 3). The shoofly would be constructed of rock riprap, generally less than 2-foot in diameter, obtained from the nearby Lakeside Quarry. This temporary shoofly fill would be removed in its entirety following construction of the bridge. 

As proposed, the new 180-foot long pile-support bridge would be constructed in two sections. There would be seven pile bents for the entire bridge. The driven piles would be filled with concrete. The southern half of the bridge would be constructed first. Following installation of the bridge superstructure and backfill as well as ballast, ties, rail and other track materials, rail traffic would be restored to this alignment. Maintenance road traffic would continue to operate on the shoofly until the north half of the bridge was constructed. UPRR estimated a 6-8 month construction period for the new bridge and the associated temporary shoofly activity.

All construction equipment is planned to be operated from the existing causeway. The attached drawings from the 2011 application provide additional project details about construction of the proposed bridge and closure of the East Culvert.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

    Environmental Setting. The Great Salt Lake is located in the northern part of Utah and covers approximately 1700 squares miles.  It is a remnant of Lake Bonneville, which covered much of western Utah in prehistoric times.  The Jordan, Weber, and Bear Rivers are the major tributaries feeding the hydrology of the Lake.  The Causeway, which traverses the lake between Promontory Point and Lakeside, is part of the Lucin Cutoff that provided a route from east Lucin, Utah, located about 8 miles east of the Nevada-Utah state line, to Ogden, Utah.  The 1904 causeway included a historic trestle-type structure that was replaced with construction of the 13-mile rock-filled causeway completed in 1959.  The site is characterized as saline open waters of the Great Salt Lake divided by the UPRR Causeway into the more saline North Arm (Gunnison Bay) and the South Arm (Gilbert Bay). 

    Background Information.  Following a February 2011 pre-application meeting with the Corps and other cooperating Federal and State resource agencies, UPRR submitted a Preconstruction Application in July 2011 to construct the proposed project under a Nationwide Permit, stating that the West Culvert located at MP 744.94 and the East Culvert located at MP 750.53 were cracking and in disrepair.  To prevent a failure of the culverts that could lead to derailment, significant delays in freight movement and economic impacts, UPRR analyzed repair alternatives and then determined that in their opinion the best long-term choice was to replace the culverts with a bridge that would span a new breach in the Causeway.  The culverts were planned to be permanently filled following construction of the bridge. 

During a July 2011 inspection, a team of divers and geotechnical engineers observed significant deterioration of the West Culvert. Following an August 2012 meeting with the Corps, UPRR sent a letter requesting reconsideration of their application and declaring that immediate action would be necessary to close the West Culvert to avoid a potential derailment. UPRR’s letter stated that the East Culvert had also been inspected but its condition was not as critical and could remain in place to allow circulation. On August 29, 2012, the Corps verified a Nationwide Permit 14 (NWP 14) authorizing closure of the West Culvert. This authorization delayed the requirement for implementation of mitigation to allow UPRR to prepare and submit a final mitigation and monitoring plan to the Corps for approval. The NWP 14 verification did not authorize closure of the East Culvert because the functioning of that culvert would be critical in helping to maintain the health of the lake by maintaining some bi-directional flow between the two arms of the lake. The East Culvert was intended to remain open until such time as an appropriate mitigation plan could be approved and constructed. The West Culvert was fully closed in November 2012, reducing circulation of flow between the two arms of the lake. 

On October 21, 2013, UPRR notified the Corps of the imminent threat of failure of the approximately 15-foot wide by 22-foot high concrete East Culvert and requested authorization to close it. On December 6, 2013, the Corps issued a Nationwide Permit 14 authorizing temporary closure of the East Culvert contingent upon proof of receipt or waiver of Section 401 water quality certification by the Utah Division of Water Quality. The short-term effect of closure of both culverts is the further temporary reduction of circulation of flows between the North and South Arms of the Great Salt Lake until the overall effects of the project is evaluated under the standard individual permit process.

The December 2013 authorization includes special conditions requiring submittal of quarterly data collection and an interim mitigation and monitoring plan to the Corps and Utah Division of Water Quality to include contingency mitigation measure(s) to restore or mitigate for the loss of North Arm brine movement into the South Arm due to closure of the East Culvert. If analysis of the monitoring data indicates that adverse effects to water quality have resulted from the reduced circulation of flows due to the temporary fill, the Corps would require UPRR to implement the contingency measure(s). Another special condition requires UPRR to provide a firm schedule for completion of their modeling plan to update, recalibrate and run new simulations of the USGS “Water and Salt Balance of Great Salt Lake, Utah, and Simulation of Water and Salt Movement through the Causeway, 1987-98,” published in 2000. Additional details about the modeling update plan are found later in the public notice.

The activity to close the East Culvert under the NWP 14 is anticipated to occur December 17, 2013 at the earliest.   

    Alternatives.  UPRR provided information concerning project alternatives in their July 2011 pre-construction notification and additional information as part of the current request to close the East Culvert.

Closure of the Causeway due to Culvert Failure: UPRR considered rerouting train traffic south through Salt Lake City and then westward using the alternate Shafter route. The Causeway route extends 178 miles from Wells, Nevada to Ogden, Utah. According to UPRR, the Causeway was constructed specifically to decrease the mileage and increase train speed for rail traffic through the area. The Causeway route is part of the main East-West interstate rail line in the central corridor of the U.S. It supports major markets from the West to East Coast and supports an average of 16 daily trains per day. This volume of train traffic is the rough equivalent of 2,500 to 3,000 semi-trucks per day.

The alternate 250-mile long Shafter route intersects the Causeway route west of the Great Salt Lake nears Wells, Nevada, and east of the Great Salt Lake at Ogden, Utah. The Shafter route is a very active route that supports regional and local markets, with an average of 14 trains per day using the downtown Salt Lake City portion of this route. It also supports East-West Amtrak traffic. The Shafter route goes around the south end of the Great Salt Lake near Magna, through industrial areas toward downtown Salt Lake City, then north to Ogden. It supports shorter lengths of trains than the Causeway. If UPRR had to reroute the 16 Causeway train loads to the Shafter route, the number of trains passing through downtown Salt Lake City would increase from 16 to approximately 40 per day. The Shafter route has 42 more at-grade public crossing than the Causeway route (58 versus 16). The Causeway route has only 2 at-grade public crossing in populated or higher traffic areas, while 38 of the 58 public-at grade crossings on the Shafter route are within the area of downtown Salt Lake and surrounding urban and industrial areas.  

 Culvert repair Alternatives:

(1) Placement of a reinforced, epoxy-coated concrete slab or deck above the culvert that would extend beyond the sides of the box. Void spaces would be grouted to prevent loss of fill material and create a level bedding surface. In 2011 when the culvert was relatively stable and functioning in terms of water flow and salt transfer, this alternative was considered viable by UPRR only as a short-term solution. In response to Corps requests in November 2013 for re-evaluation of this alternative and a variation using a steel plate to span the East Culvert, UPRR responded that it was neither feasible nor safe to attempt to place a steel plate or concrete slab over the top of the failing culvert or in the unstable substrate. Based on information from UPRR, the use of a steel plate or similar structural alternative would simply not extend far enough to cover potential slip surfaces without instability. 

(2) Installation of a smaller, pre-constructed culvert structure into the existing culvert as reinforcement. This alternative was also considered only a temporary solution due to the continuing settlement and deformation of the culvert. This alternative would reduce the cross-sectional area available, but still allow for some direct water flows. Due to the culvert’s deterioration observed in the October 2013 diving inspect, UPRR stated it would not be feasible or safe to insert a smaller culvert within the existing opening. The maximum conceivable opening would be only about one-third of the existing opening and would involve handling a very heavy pipe in difficult underwater conditions in and around the failing culvert.

(3) In 2011, UPRR evaluated use of a concrete culvert placed on piles in the location of the East and West Culverts and concluded a pile-supported structure would cause differential settlement between the existing causeway and the new culverts because, presumably, the structure would have a lower settlement rate than the remainder of the causeway. UPRR determined this differential settlement could not be tolerated by the track structure.

(4) In 2011, UPRR evaluated placing compensation grouting beneath the failing culverts to raise the culvert base back into position. Because of the soft bottom of the lake bed, UPRR determined that soft sediments below the culvert structures would compress, or possibly fail, if high pressure were applied to the soil in a rapid manner.

Additional information concerning project alternatives may be available from the applicant or their agent. Other alternatives may develop during the review process for this permit application. All reasonable project alternatives, in particular those which may be less damaging to the aquatic environment, will be considered.

    Mitigation. The Corps requires that applicants consider and use all reasonable and practical measures to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources.  The temporary East Culvert closure action has been designed to minimize impacts to the Great Salt Lake by limiting fill to the extent necessary to close the culvert and the grading to occur at each end of the culvert.  The UPRR contractor is required to work from the existing causeway embankment and to implement all appropriate Best Management Practices, including temporary erosion and sediment control practices. The proposed temporary shoofly to reroute rail traffic during construction of the 180-foot bridge was designed to minimize the amount of temporary fill (approximately 1.28 acres) placed in the lake by designing the slopes of the shoofly to 1.75H:1V and locating it to the north of the existing causeway.  All temporary fill material placed in the lake for construction of the proposed mitigation would be removed once the bridge or other mitigation option was constructed.

When the Southern Pacific Railroad constructed the 1959 section of the Causeway, the East and West Culverts were installed to allow small boat traffic to pass through the Causeway. Over time, this beneficial use was eliminated by the gradual sinking of the box culverts and increased lake levels. As the culverts sank deeper in the lake, they provided for bi-directional water flow and transfer of salt and other minerals between the North and South Arms. UPRR stated construction of the bridge was proposed to compensate for the loss of these functions with closure of the culverts and also stated the replacement bridge would restore the possibility of small boat passage through the causeway at the new bridge location.

In June 2013, UPRR undertook a three-step plan to update the 1987-98 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) water and salt balance model. The modeling analysis will be used to evaluate whether the proposed bridge would compensate for the loss of the aquatic functions that would result from closing the culverts as they collectively functioned prior to their closure.  

The UPRR three-step modeling and simulations effort includes updating, recalibrating and running the water and salt balance model to predict the impact to salinity gradients and flows between the North and South Arms as a result of construction of the proposed bridge. UPRR briefed the cooperating federal and state agencies on November 25, 2013, that step one of the three-step modeling and simulation plan was complete. 

    Step 1 entailed running the 1987-1988 USGS calibrated model to produce the same output as the previous USGS effort as reported in the published 2000 report.  Two separate simulations were then run 1) to model the East and West Culvert flows and 2) the proposed new bridge without the culverts  to produce a comparison of the predicted impacts on North and South Arm lake levels, distribution of salt load between arms, and North to South and South to North (bi-directional) flows through the causeway during the same 12-year interval analyzed in the 1998 model.

    Under Step 2, UPRR plans to develop and calibrate a new version of the USGS Model for the hydrology period of 1987-2012.  This would extend the modeling period for a total of 25 years, which includes both the wetter and the drier climates experienced over this timeframe.  The updated model would then be used to simulate the Lake response under the scenario as the culverts functioned in 2012 and the proposed new bridge.  UPRR believes this step would allow for a more robust assessment of the potential response of the lake to having open culverts (at 2012 elevations) versus the simulated response of the Lake if the proposed bridge were substituted for the culverts.  A comparison of two simulations on the North and South Arms would be conducted on the following parameters:  1) distribution of salt load between the arms and 2) bi-directional flows through the causeway.  The model results would be compared to the hydrologic conditions experienced during 1987-2012, i.e., the precipitation, groundwater and stream inflows, and evaporation exhibited during the period.

    Step 3 of the plan is to develop a new predictive model for selected climatology.  Step 3 is to predict how the Great Salt Lake water and salt balance would react to future hydrologic scenarios.  UPRR would compare simulation results of lake levels, salinities, salt load and, bi-directional flows for the culverts and the proposed bridge under varying hydrologic conditions.  These simulations and comparisons would start with the lake characteristics (level and salinity) observed in 2012 to predict how these lake parameters would react in the future if the culverts were open and fully operational at the 2012 level under varying conditions from 2012 forward.  Those results would be compared to the results if the bridge were it to be in place without the culverts.  The modeling effort would repeat the results through selected annual hydrologic conditions until dynamic equilibrium was achieved. 

Should differences between the predicted reaction of the proposed bridge in comparison to the predicted reaction of the functioning culverts be deemed adverse in terms of impacts on the water and salt balance (i.e. more than a minimal effect), the proposed bridge geometry would be modified to achieve a comparable result to the two culverts.

Steps 2 and 3 of the modeling have not been completed. However, UPRR stated that salt transfers for the period from spring 2004 to spring 2009, a period of lower but relatively stable water elevations, can be calculated and evaluated using three sets of interrelated data from that period: 1) sampled North and South Arm salinities, 2) measured bi-directional flows through the culverts, and 3) total salt load in the South Arm. UPRR believes the period from spring 2004 to spring 2009 is the one on record that is relevant for the purpose of this evaluation because it begins when UPRR removed all rubble from the culverts and improved bi-directional flows. This period is also relevant because it ends with the latest known computation of the salt load in the North of South Arms (Kidd Waddell, “The Potential Effects of the Proposed Great Salt Lake Minerals Project on the Water and Salt Balance of the Great Salt Lake, Utah,” 2010). 

According to UPRR, the total salt load in the South Arm was approximately 1.7 billion tons in the spring of 2009. The measured average South Arm salinity was 15.5 percent. Correlating the salinities and bi-directional flows through the culverts, the net salt transfer through the two culverts (during the 5 year period ending spring 2009) was estimated at 150 million tons transferred from north to south. Based on their calculations, UPRR postulates that had the culverts been closed during that time, the estimated salt load in the South Arm would have been 1.55 billion tons, or a salinity of 14.2 percent. This suggests that the average effect of the two culverts on South Arm salinity was limited to about 0.26 percent per year during the low water levels of this period which were similar to the current water elevation. Based on available data, UPRR believes that under current conditions the closure of both culverts would result in a reduction of 0.2 to 0.25 percent decrease in South Arm salinity per year.

OTHER GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORIZATIONS: A 401 Water Quality Certification from the Utah Division of Water Quality is required for Corps’ issuance of a standard individual permit for the proposed bridge construction and permanent closure of the East Culvert project. This requirement comes from the authority of Section 401 of the Federal Clean Water Act, (33 U.S.C. Subsection 1341) and is consistent with the Utah Water Quality Act, Title 19, Chapter 5, Utah Code Ann. 1953, as amended and Utah Administrative Code R317-15. A person who wishes to challenge a Permit Order may only raise an issue or argument during an adjudicatory proceeding that was raised during the public comment period and was supported with sufficient information or documentation to enable the Director to fully consider the substance and significance of the issue. Utah Code Ann. 19-1-301.5 can be viewed at the following internet URL: http://le.utah.gov/~code/TITLE19/htm/19_01_030105.htm . Any comments specific to 401 Water Quality Certification relative to this public notice should be submitted to Mr. Bill Damery, Utah Division of Water Quality, P.O. Box 144870, Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-4870, or wdamery@utah.gov on or before January 13, 27, 2014.

UPRR will be responsible for obtaining any other necessary governmental authorizations to ensure the authorized project can be constructed following conclusion of a permit evaluation process and issuance of a standard individual permit.

HISTORIC PROPERTIES: Based on the available information (including the applicant's report entitled “Union Pacific Railroad Great Salt Lake Causeway Determination of Eligibility, Great Salt Lake, Utah,” prepared by CH2M Hill, and dated September 2011), the Corps concluded that the Great Salt Lake Causeway and its associated approach fills and culverts do not meet the criteria for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The Causeway is significant under Criterion A for its association with the NRHP-listed “Southern Pacific Railroad: Ogden-Lucin Cut-Off Trestle” and is also significant under Criterion C because its construction embodied the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction. However, over its lifetime the Causeway has experienced many changes and alterations and none of the segments composing the Causeway possess integrity of material or workmanship. Therefore, the Corps determined that the project would have No Effect on Historic Properties. The Utah State Historic Preservation Office concurred in that determination in their letter dated October 25, 2011.   

ENDANGERED SPECIES: The project will not affect any Federally-listed threatened or endangered species or their critical habitat that are protected by the Endangered Species Act. 

ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT: The proposed project will not adversely affect Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) as defined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The above determinations are based on information provided by the applicant and our review.

EVALUATION FACTORS: The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the described activity on the public interest. That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. The benefit, which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the described activity, must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. All factors which may be relevant to the described activity will be considered, including the cumulative effects thereof; among those are conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historic properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shoreline erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food and fiber production, mineral needs, consideration of property ownership and, in general, the needs and welfare of the people. The activity's impact on the public interest will include application of the Section 404(b)(1) guidelines promulgated by the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (40 CFR Part 230).

The Corps is soliciting comments from the public, Federal, State, and local agencies and officials, Indian tribes, and other interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of this proposed activity. Any comments received will be considered by the Corps to determine whether to issue, modify, condition, or deny a permit for this proposal. To make this decision, comments are used to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and other public interest factors listed above. Comments are used in the preparation of an Environmental Assessment and/or an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity.

SUBMITTING COMMENTS: Written comments, referencing Public Notice SPK-2011-00755 must be submitted to the office listed below on or before January 13, 27, 2014.

Kathleen Anderson
US Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District
Utah-Nevada Regulatory Branch
533 West 2600 South, Suite 150
Bountiful, Utah 84010
Email: Kathleen.Anderson@usace.army.mil

The Corps is particularly interested in receiving comments related to the proposal's probable impacts on the affected aquatic environment and the secondary and cumulative effects. Anyone may request, in writing, that a public hearing be held to consider this application. Requests shall specifically state, with particularity, the reason(s) for holding a public hearing. If the Corps determines that the information received in response to this notice is inadequate for thorough evaluation, a public hearing may be warranted. If a public hearing is warranted, interested parties will be notified of the time, date, and location. Please note that all comment letters received are subject to release to the public through the Freedom of Information Act. If you have questions or need additional information please contact the applicant or the Corps' project manager Kathleen Anderson, 801-295-8380 ext.10, Kathleen.Anderson@usace.army.mil.

Attachments: 7 drawings