Comments Period: September 7, 2017 – September 25, 2017
SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, (Corps) is evaluating a permit application to construct Segment D of Construction Package 1 (CP1D) of the California High-Speed Train (HST), Merced to Fresno project. This project would add 2.9 miles to the previously approved Construction Package 1, which is currently under construction. This project would result in permanent impacts to 5.02 acres of waters of the United States, including 2.95 acres of wetlands, and temporary impacts to 0.25 acre of waters of the U.S. This notice is to inform interested parties of the proposed activity and to solicit comments.
AUTHORITY: This application is being evaluated under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act for the discharge of dredged or fill material in waters of the United States.
APPLICANT: State of California,
California High Speed Rail Authority,
Attn: Mark McLoughlin,
770 L Street, Suite 800,
Sacramento, California 95814-3359
LOCATION: The 2.9-mile project is located along the west side of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) track between Avenue 17 (Latitude 36.995396°, Longitude -120.042950°) and Avenue 19 (Latitude 37.025434°, Longitude -120. 079473°) in Madera, Madera County, California.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) proposes to construct, operate, and maintain an electric-powered High-Speed Train (HST) system in California. When completed, the nearly 800-mile train system would provide new passenger rail service to more than 90% of the state’s population, connecting the major population centers of Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, Orange County, and San Diego. More than 200 weekday trains would serve the statewide intercity travel market. The HST system includes the HST tracks, structures, stations, traction power substations, and maintenance facilities and train vehicles. The HST System is envisioned as a state-of-the-art, electrically powered, high-speed, steel-wheel-on-steel-rail technology, which would include the latest technology, safety, signaling, and automated train-control systems. The fully grade-separated, dedicated track alignment would allow operating speeds of up to 220 miles per hour (mph), and make a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes.
The Merced to Fresno Section, located in the San Joaquin Valley, is one of nine sections identified in the Statewide Programmatic EIR/EIS completed by the Authority and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in 2005. The proposed project would construct the remaining 2.9 miles of Construction Package 1. CP1A and 1B (24 miles) are within the Merced to Fresno Section and were approved on March 13, 2014, and have been modified multiple times. CP1C (5 miles) is within the Fresno to Bakersfield Section and was approved on June 17, 2015. The Merced to Fresno alignment immediately north of CP1D is part of a supplemental EIR/EIS analyzing the Central Valley Wye alternatives. The permit area for CP1D includes two fully grade-separated tracks within a 100-foot right-of-way, a 200-foot bridge over Schmidt Creek, a triple box culvert crossing of a tributary to Schmidt Creek, and portions of existing surface streets that would be realigned or modified to cross the alignment. The project footprint is expanded from what was analyzed in the Final EIR/EIS to allow for temporary construction access and staging, temporary traffic realignments, utility relocations, and permanent access. The entire alignment would be at-grade including the bridge and culvert crossings. The attached drawings provide draft designs for the crossings at Schmidt Creek and a tributary to Schmidt Creek.
The overall project purpose is to implement the Merced to Fresno Section of the California HST System to provide the public with electric-powered high-speed rail service that provides predictable and consistent travel times between major urban centers and connectivity to airports, mass transit, and the highway network in the south San Joaquin Valley and connect the northern and southern portions of the system. The applicant believes a need for an HST system exists statewide as the capacity of California’s intercity transportation system, including the south San Joaquin Valley region, is insufficient to meet future travel demands, and the current and projected future congestion of the system is expected to result in continued deterioration of air quality, reduced reliability, and increased travel times.
Roles and Responsibilities: The FRA is the lead Federal agency for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The Corps, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the FRA, and the Authority signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in fall of 2010, creating an integrated process for compliance with NEPA, Clean Water Act, and Rivers and Harbors Act. The MOU includes a series of checkpoints to determine the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative (LEDPA) and resulted in an integrated NEPA document meeting the needs of the FRA and the Corps. An EIR/EIS was prepared for this project by FRA and the Authority with the Corps as a cooperating agency. The Final EIR/EIS was released in April 2012 and the FRA signed a Record of Decision on September 18, 2012. A copy of the Final EIR/EIS can be found on the Authority’s website at http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/Programs/Environmental_Planning/final_merced_fresno.html.
Environmental Setting: Typical land uses occurring within the proposed footprint include agricultural, rural residential, and industrial (BNSF right-of-way). All portions of the alignment are manipulated and appear to receive some form of annual disturbance. Aquatic resources include approximately 5.37 acres of wetlands and 3.28 acres of other waters within the review area. Wetlands within the footprint include seasonal wetlands and vernal pools. Mapped waterways also include natural riverine features, detention basins and canals.
Alternatives: Six alternatives were analyzed within the EIR/EIS, including two alternatives within PP1. Through the multi-agency review process and response to comments on the draft EIR/EIS, a preferred alternative and preliminary LEDPA was identified in the Final EIR/EIS. The Hybrid alternative is the proposed project and represents the applicant’s preferred alternative. The Corps concurred on March 26, 2012, that the Hybrid alternative represents the preliminary LEDPA.
Mitigation: The Corps requires that applicants consider and use all reasonable and practical measures to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources. If the applicant is unable to avoid or minimize all impacts, the Corps may require compensatory mitigation. The Authority has proposed to purchase credits at a Corps-approved mitigation bank for impacts to waters of the U.S. No mitigation is proposed for impacts to 1.70 acres of open waters, consistent with the previous permit for CP1A and 1B.
OTHER GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORIZATIONS: Water quality certification or a waiver, as required under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, from the California State Water Resources Control Board is required for this project. The Authority has applied for 401 Certification and is working with the State Water Resources Control Board, but has not received certification at this time.
HISTORIC PROPERTIES: No potentially eligible cultural resources have been identified within the proposed project. The FRA, Authority, State Historic Preservation Officer, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation executed a programmatic agreement in July 2011 under Section 106 of the NHPA. The potential for impacts to historic properties will be analyzed according to the executed programmatic agreement.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The proposed activity would affect Federally-listed endangered or threatened species or their critical habitat. The FRA completed consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) pursuant to Section 7 of the ESA. A Biological Opinions was issued by USFWS on September 14, 2012 (08EMF00-2012-F-0248), and amended on April 14, 2017 to include impact refinement for CP1D.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT: The proposed project will not adversely affect Essential Fish Habitat as defined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
The above determinations are based on information provided by the applicant and our preliminary 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. Copies of comments received will be provided to the FRA for use in preparation of the 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-2009-01483 must be submitted to the office listed below on or before September 25, 2017.
Zachary Simmons, Project Manager
US Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District
1325 J Street, Room 1350
Sacramento, California 95814
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 Zachary Simmons, 916-557-6746, Zachary.M.Simmons@usace.army.mil.
Attachments: 10 maps and drawings