Comments Period: November 1, 2018 – December 1, 2018
SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, (Corps) is evaluating a permit application to construct Permit Phase 2 of the California High-Speed Rail, Fresno to Bakersfield Section. Permit Phase 2 consists of a 23.13-mile portion of the overall 114-mile Fresno to Bakersfield Section, and would extend from approximately Poplar Avenue north of Shafter, California, to Oswell Street in Bakersfield, California. Approximately 86.3 miles of the Fresno to Bakersfield Section have been previously authorized under Department of the Army permits. Construction of the remaining 4.57 miles of this section will be evaluated in a future permit decision. Permit Phase 2 would result in permanent impacts to 15 acres of waters of the United States, and temporary impacts to 2.26 acres of waters of the United States. No wetlands would be impacted by the project. 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: Mr. Mark McLoughlin, 770 L Street, Suite 800, Sacramento, California 95814-3359
LOCATION: The approximately 23.13-mile project begins at Poplar Avenue and Central Valley Highway, north of the City of Shafter (Latitude 35.52446°, Longitude -119.2997°), and extends in an approximately south-easterly direction to terminate near Oswell Street and Edison Highway in Bakersfield (Latitude 35.36693°, Longitude -118.9501°), Kern County, California. The project also includes construction of a multimodal transportation station in downtown Bakersfield. The project alignment passes through the Wasco, Rio Bravo, Rosedale, Oildale, Oil Center, and Lamont USGS 7.5 minute topographic quadrangles.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) proposes to construct, operate, and maintain an electric-powered High-Speed Rail (HSR) 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 HSR system includes the HSR tracks, structures, stations, traction power substations, and maintenance facilities and train vehicles. The HSR 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, and make a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes.
The Fresno to Bakersfield Section, located in the Tulare Basin of 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. A project-level EIR/EIS for the Fresno to Bakersfield Section was certified by the Authority in May 2014, and the FRA issued its Record of Decision (ROD) in June 2014. Department of the Army permits have been issued that authorize construction of 86.3 miles of the overall 114-mile Fresno to Bakersfield Section. The current authorizations are comprised of Permit Phase 1 Construction Package 1C (5 miles), authorized on June 17, 2015; Permit Phase 1A (29.3 miles), authorized on January 30, 2017; and Permit Phase 1B (52 miles), authorized on August 15, 2017. On June 5, 2014, the City of Bakersfield filed a state lawsuit challenging the Authority’s May 2014 approvals under the California Environmental Quality Act. In a settlement agreement reached in December 2014, the City of Bakersfield and the Authority agreed to work together to develop and study a new alternative for the Bakersfield portion of the project that would be acceptable to the City and meet the Authority’s design requirements. The Fresno to Bakersfield Locally Generated Alternative (F-B LGA) evolved from this mutual cooperation and subsequent public input. An important outcome of development of the F-B LGA is the identification of an additional alternative location for the Bakersfield multimodal passenger station. Under the F-B LGA alternative, the “F Street Station” would be located in downtown Bakersfield, at the intersection of F Street and State Route 204/99B. The Authority also worked with the City of Shafter to include in the F-B LGA a new design for the alignment within Shafter. A Draft Supplemental EIR/EIS evaluating the environmental and community impacts associated with the F-B LGA, and comparing the potential impacts of the F-B LGA to the impacts of the corresponding portion of the preferred alternative identified in the May 2014 Final EIR/EIS, was circulated for public comment on November 9, 2017.
The Authority and FRA have not yet completed the Fresno to Bakersfield Section Final Supplemental EIR/EIS, which will further evaluate and address public comments regarding the environmental and community impacts of the alternative currently proposed to be constructed under Permit Phase 2 of the Fresno to Bakersfield Section. The Corps will not finalize a permit decision for Permit Phase 2 until the FRA has issued a ROD documenting its evaluation of the proposed project and reasonable alternatives in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Fresno to Bakersfield Section Final Supplemental EIR/EIS will be made available for public review prior to issuance of the ROD.
The permit area for Permit Phase 2 of the California High-Speed Rail, Fresno to Bakersfield Section includes two fully grade-separated tracks within a 60 to 120-foot right-of-way, and all of the HSR improvements and associated facilities such as traction power substations (32,000 square feet each), switching stations (9,600 square feet each), paralleling stations (8,000 square feet each), utility relocations, and the shifts in roadway rights-of-way, overcrossings, undercrossings, and interchanges that would be constructed or modified to accommodate the F-B LGA segment. The 23.13-mile alignment would include sections at-grade (10.52 miles), on bridges (0.43 mile), on steel truss (0.31 mile), on retained fill (1.97 miles), and on elevated viaduct (9.90 miles). The passenger station associated with Permit Phase 2 would be located at the intersection of F Street and State Route 204/99B in the City of Bakersfield. The F Street Station would result in permanent conversion of approximately 44 acres of land to transportation-related uses. The station would be located on land that is currently developed with 7.5 acres of commercial uses, 8 acres of community facility uses, and 13.8 acres of industrial uses. Approximately 15 acres of the station site is currently vacant land or right-of-way. One Maintenance of Infrastructure Facility would be located in the City of Shafter between Poplar Avenue and Fresno Avenue. Permit Phase 2 would include the placement of permanent and temporary fill materials into aquatic resources at 26 locations. The majority of permanent impacts to jurisdictional aquatic resources would be associated with realignment or modification of engineered canals/ditches (13.69 acres). Permanent impacts to the Kern River, the only natural aquatic resource within the permit area, would total 0.02 acre. Crossings of constructed retention/detention basins would result in 1.29 acre of permanent impacts. The attached drawings provide the conceptual layout for the F Street Station in Bakersfield; draft designs for the crossings at Kern River, Calloway Canal and Lerdo Canal; and the locations of all temporary and permanent impacts to Corps-verified aquatic resources within the F-B LGA footprint.
The overall project purpose is to implement the Fresno to Bakersfield Section of the California HSR 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 HSR 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 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 the fall of 2010, creating an integrated process for compliance with NEPA, the Clean Water Act, and the Rivers and Harbors Act. The MOU includes a series of checkpoints to determine the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative (LEDPA), resulting in an integrated NEPA document meeting the needs of the FRA and the Corps. An EIR/EIS was prepared for the Fresno to Bakersfield Section by FRA and the Authority with the Corps as a cooperating agency. The Final EIR/EIS was published in April 2014, and was certified by the Authority in May 2014. The FRA signed a Record of Decision on June 27, 2014. A Draft Supplemental EIR/EIS evaluating the alternative currently proposed to be constructed under Permit Phase 2, was released in November 2017. A copy of the Draft Supplemental EIR/EIS can be found on the Authority’s website at http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/Programs/Environmental_Planning/supplemental_fresno_bakersfield.html.
Environmental Setting. Typical land uses within the proposed footprint include existing railroad rights-of-way and associated facilities; agricultural production and storage; industrial; commercial; residential; community facilities; parks and natural areas; and undeveloped/vacant areas. Jurisdictional aquatic resources within the proposed project footprint include 42.96 acres of engineered canals/ditches, 18.34 acres of retention/detention basins, and 10.15 acres of seasonal riverine stream channel.
Alternatives. Two alternatives were analyzed within the November 2017 Draft Supplemental EIR/EIS. These consist of the F-B LGA, developed in response to public comment and in coordination with the cities of Shafter and Bakersfield; and the preferred alternative identified in the May 2014 Fresno to Bakersfield Section Final EIR/EIS. The applicant’s preferred alternative, and the preliminary Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA), for the Fresno to Bakersfield Section Permit Phase 2 was identified in the 2017 Draft Supplemental EIR/EIS. The F-B LGA alternative is the proposed project and represents the applicant’s preferred alternative. The Corps concurred on May 5, 2017, that the F-B LGA 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 mitigation credits from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Sacramento District California In-Lieu Fee Program for unavoidable permanent impacts to the Kern River. Consistent with previous permits issued for Fresno to Bakersfield Section Permit Phase 1A and 1B, the Authority has proposed to realign and/or replace the conveyance and capacity of all permanently impacted canals/ditches and retention/detention basins on-site, via establishment and/or re-establishment of these aquatic resources.
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. A permit cannot be issued until a Section 401 water quality certification or waiver is received for the project.
HISTORIC PROPERTIES: 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 National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Cultural resources investigations were undertaken for both above and below-ground resources within the Permit Phase 2 project area in accordance with the 2011 programmatic agreement. Based on the results of these investigations, the FRA determined that Permit Phase 2 would result in unavoidable, indirect visual effects to four historic properties. The Authority and FRA consulted with relevant parties, including the Corps, to develop and execute a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) specific to the Fresno to Bakersfield Section in 2014. An amendment to the 2014 MOA is being prepared to include properties specific to Permit Phase 2. The Corps will be a signatory party to the amended 2014 MOA; upon execution, the amended MOA will govern compliance with Section 106 of the NHPA, including completion of inventory, evaluation, and treatment for areas where permission to enter has not yet been granted.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The proposed activity would affect Federally-listed endangered or threatened species. No critical habitat for any federally listed species occurs within the project area. The FRA completed consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, and was issued a Biological Opinion on February 28, 2013. The Biological Opinion was subsequently amended on April 1, 2014, and again on July 28, 2017. The FRA has reinitiated consultation with the USFWS pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, to append Permit Phase 2 to the existing Biological Opinion.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT: The proposed project would 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 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 Final Supplemental 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-2009-01482 must be submitted to the office listed below on or before December 1, 2018.
Mr. Zachary Fancher, Senior Project Manager
US Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District
1325 J Street, Suite 1350
Sacramento, California 95814-2922
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, Mr. Zachary Fancher, (916) 557-6643, Zachary.J.Fancher@usace.army.mil.
Attachments: 51 maps and drawings