Comments Period: October 1, 2020 – October 31, 2020
SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, (Corps) is evaluating a permit application for a common-carrier freight rail system that would connect the Uinta Basin to the interstate common-carrier rail network. The project would result in impacts to waters of the United States including 14.78 acres of wetlands, 0.09 acre of playa, 56.41 miles (44.45 acres) of perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral streams, 5.1 miles of canals and ditches, and 1.28 acres of open-water features. This notice is to inform interested parties of the proposed activity and to solicit comments. This notice may also be viewed at the Corps web site at www.spk.usace.army.mil/Media/RegulatoryPublicNotices.aspx.
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.
Seven County Infrastructure Coalition
Michael J. McKee, Executive Director
294 East 100 South
Price, UT 84501
Uinta Basin Railway, LLC
Mark W. Hemphill, Senior Vice President – Program Management
400 West Morse Blvd, Suite 220
Winter Park, FL 32789
LOCATION: The project is located in the Uinta Basin (basin). The basin is located primarily in northeast Utah and extends into northwestern Colorado within the mountain ranges and plateaus of the surrounding Rocky Mountain West. The proposed railway would run from south to northeast and cross Uintah, Duchesne, Carbon, and Utah Counties and would range in elevation from about 5,015 to 8,207 feet. The eastern terminus point would be located near Myton, Utah Latitude: 40.148617 Longitude: -109.861781. The western terminus point would be located near Kyune, Utah Latitude: 39.839449 Longitude: -110.981295. The railway location can be seen on the Windy Ridge, Myton, Duchesne SE, Duchesne SW, Lance Canyon, Minnie Maud Cr W, Matts Summit, and Kyune USGS Topographic Quadrangles.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The applicants for this project are the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (Coalition) and Uinta Basin Railway, LLC. The Coalition is a governmental entity comprised of Carbon, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, San Juan, Sevier, and Uintah Counties. The Coalition has developed a public-private partnership agreement with private partners Drexel Hamilton Infrastructure Partners Fund II, LLC and Uinta Basin Railway, LLC. The private partners would provide the funding and construct the railway. Once constructed, the private partners would operate and maintain the railway and associated facilities. The Coalition is the public partner in charge of obtaining the necessary authorization for the construction of the project.
The applicants are proposing to construct an 88 mile long railway common-carrier freight rail system that would connect the Uinta Basin to the interstate common-carrier rail network. This 88-mile long route is referred as the Whitmore Park Route (enclosure 1). The railway would connect with one or more of the two Class I railroads in the western United States: Union Pacific (UP) and BNSF Railway.
The railway would consist of a single-track main line that would accommodate trains that vary in length with a maximum length of 7,500 feet, unless conditions indicate otherwise. The maximum length trains would be comprised of 110 60-foot long cars, 8 locomotives, and 4 buffer cars. Freight traffic would primarily service oil production which would transport crude oil out of the basin and transport materials including steel pipes, drill stems, and sand into the basin. It is expected that the railway would also be utilized by other industries for the transport of commodities including agricultural products, lumber, and other building materials.
The railroad design includes bridges, tunnels, switchbacks, spiral curves, and culverts needed for operating parameters and to achieve the necessary engineering criteria resulting in crossings of waters of the United States. The impacts to water of the United States resulting from this project would include 14.78 acres of wetlands (0.014 acres of emergent marsh, 2.94 acres of shrub-scrub, and 11.69 acres of wet meadow), 0.09 acre of playa, 14.84 miles (21.99 acres) of perennial stream, 0.81 miles (0.31 acre) of intermittent stream, 40.74 miles (22.15 acres) of ephemeral streams, 5.1 miles (2.20 acre) of ditches, and 1.28 acres of open waters. New terminals are not being proposed as part of this Department of the Army (DA) permit application at the railway terminus points of the proposed rail line to transfer commodities between trucks and rail cars.
The applicant has indicated that detailed fill quantities will be determined in the final design stage, which will be conducted after geotechnical investigations are completed. In addition, supplemental wetland delineation field work is ongoing. The final discharge of material in waters of the United States will be updated once field work is complete and jurisdictional status of waters of the United States within the project footprint is confirmed.
Based on information provided by the applicant, the overall project purpose is to provide common-carrier railway service to connect the Uinta Basin to the national railway network using a route that would provide shippers in the Basin with a viable rail alternative to reach markets that trucks cannot cost-effectively serve. The applicant believes there is a need for a cost-effective transportation option to trucking for long-distance heavy and bulk commodity movements in and out of the basin.
The attached drawings provide additional project details. The applicant has indicated that the information depicted on the plans submitted for this public notice is a preliminary engineering design and is subject to change.
Environmental Setting. Duchesne and Uintah Counties occupy most of what is known as the Uinta Basin. The project area is known as the Whitmore Park Study Area (enclosure 2) and includes segments of numerous perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral streams. Perennial streams are hydrologically connected downstream to the Colorado River. Some of the wetlands documented within the study area are directly supported by streams, and others are supported by shallow groundwater. Irrigation diversions from streams, constructed conveyances (canals, ditches, pipelines), and open water impoundments are common in agricultural fields within the study area.
The Whitmore Park Study Area is about 10,615.3 acres and contains approximately 155.28 acres of aquatic resources. A total of 45.75 acres of wetlands and 0.42 acre of playa were delineated in the study area. By general vegetation cover types, delineated wetlands consist of emergent marsh (0.57 acres), shrub-scrub (8.83 acres), and wet meadow (36.35 acres). The study area was generally 1,000 feet wide. Approximately 638,894 linear feet (102.33 acres) of stream channels were delineated in the study area including the following streams: Antelope Creek, Argyle Creek, Beaver Creek, Cripple Creek, Dry Fork, Fivemile Creek, Horse Creek, Indian Canyon Creek, KP Creek, Kyune Creek, Price River, Pole Creek, and Willow Creed. Numerous intermittent and ephemeral streams were delineated. Intermittent and ephemeral streams located in the vicinity of Emma Park and Whitmore Park are generally highly incised. These conditions might be due to a combination of naturally erosive soils and livestock grazing in the areas. Numerous ephemeral streams were delineated east of Duchesne. These streams vary from relatively steep to relatively low-gradient. At lower gradients, development of alluvial features such as floodplains, braiding, low flow channels, and bankfull benches is generally present. Approximately 44,802 linear feet (2.95 acres) of canals and ditches and 3.82 acres of open water features were delineated. Most of the canals and ditches are located either in Indian Canyon as a diversion to Indian Canyon Creek or in the Myton Bench area.
Alternatives. The applicant has provided information concerning project alternatives (enclosure 3) to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) who is the lead Federal Agency preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The STB’s draft EIS is anticipated to be published in the Federal Register in late October 2020. The Corps is a cooperating agency in the development of the EIS. The EIS is being processed concurrently with this DA permit application. Information for the EIS process can be viewed at http://uintabasinrailwayeis.com/. The Corps will rely on STB’s EIS regarding the evaluation of impacts the natural and built environment with which to make a permit decision.
For the purposes of the DA permit application, the applicant has provided information concerning 29 project alternatives. Alternatives were eliminated based on a tiered analysis. The criteria for the Tier 1 alternative analysis screening included three criteria: 1. Natural and built environment effects, 2. Constructability, and 3. Operational feasibility and route not substantially duplicative. The Tier 1 analysis eliminated 21 alternatives. The Tier 2 analysis screening criteria was based on connection to the Interstate Rail Network, tribal lands, roadless areas, Bureau of Land Management land with special designation status, clean water act permitting, operation feasibility and constructability and cost feasibility. The Tier 2 analysis eliminated 4 alternatives.
Detailed information has been submitted for the 3 remaining alternatives and the no-action alternative to be evaluated as part of this DA permit application and are described below:
No-Action Alternative: Under the No-Action Alternative, the Uinta Basin Railway would not be constructed. The No-Action Alternative does not meet the proposed Purpose and Need but is brought forward under the NEPA review in order to compare the environmental consequences of the three reasonable and feasible alternatives to the No-Action Alternative. The No-Action Alternative would not provide a connection to the UP/BNSF rail line near Kyune and therefore, would not provide competitive Class I freight rail service to the Uinta Basin. There would be no proposed improvements to the existing UP/BNSF rail line other than each railway’s annual maintenance and/or capital improvement programs.
Indian Canyon Alternative: Starting at the UP Provo Subdivision main line near Kyune, Utah, this route heads easterly through Emma Park parallel to the Roan Cliffs. It then climbs the Roan Cliffs to a summit tunnel through the West Tavaputs Plateau near Indian Creek Pass on U.S. Highway 191. The summit tunnel emerges near the headwaters of Indian Creek. The route then descends northward in Indian Canyon to a location about two miles south of Duchesne. The route turns eastward and ascends onto benchlands to the south of the Duchesne River to reach the proposed terminus in the Uinta Basin.
Wells Draw Alternative: Starting at the UP Provo Subdivision main line near Kyune, Utah, this route heads easterly through Emma Park parallel to the Roan Cliffs. It then climbs the Roan Cliffs to a summit tunnel through the West Tavaputs Plateau. The location of the Wells Draw summit tunnel’s west portal is similar to the Indian Canyon summit tunnel west portal, but its east portal is located in the upper reaches of Argyle Canyon instead of the upper reaches of Indian Canyon. After entering Argyle Canyon, the Wells Draw Route gradually climbs the north slope of Argyle Canyon, running in an eastward direction, reaching the canyon rim near the headwaters of Wells Draw. The route then turns north and descends in the Wells Draw drainage to reach the proposed terminus in the Uinta Basin.
Whitmore Park Alternative (applicant’s preferred alternative): The Whitmore Park Route would be located east of the Indian Canyon Route, in the Whitmore Park area and connect with the UP/BNSF network at Kyune at the same location, with an identical conceptual interchange layout. The Whitmore Park Route was developed to reduce potential impacts to property owners by shifting the proposed railway south, closer to Emma Park Road, and farther from the residential homes in the Emma Park and Duchesne Mini Ranches areas. At this time, the Whitmore Park Alternative is the Applicant’s preferred alternative and is the subject of this Section 404 individual permit application. The applicant has indicated that this alternative is anticipated to have the least amount of impacts to aquatic resources.
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. If the applicant is unable to avoid or minimize all impacts, the Corps may require compensatory mitigation. The applicant has identified three general areas to pursue permittee responsible mitigation on public lands including locations within Indian Canyon, Lower Duchesne River, and Strawberry River System (enclosure 4).
OTHER GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORIZATIONS: Water quality certification or a waiver, as required under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are required for this project. In addition, the applicant has indicated the following authorizations would be needed for construction of the railway.
- Record of Decision/Construction and Operating Authority from the STB for construction and operation of a common carrier rail line. The EIS is in process.
- CWA Section 402, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit from the EPA for construction on tribal lands.
- Stream Alteration Permit from the Utah Division of Water Rights for waters of the state stream crossings.
- Utah Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (UDPES) Construction Permit from the Utah Division of Water Quality for stormwater quality management and groundwater discharge during construction.
- Encroachment Permit from the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) for construction within the UDOT right-of-way.
- Special Use Permit/Right-of-Way Permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service for right-of-way or easement across Forest Service land.
- Right-of-Way (ROW) Permits from the Utah State Institutional Trust Land Administration and the Ute Tribe for ROW or easement across land owned by the State of Utah and the Ute Tribe.
Based on the information provided, applications have not yet been submitted, and all permits and approvals are pending.
HISTORIC PROPERTIES: Based on the available information, potentially eligible cultural resources may be affected by the proposed project. The STB, acting as Lead Federal Agency, has indicated that it will initiate consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, as appropriate. Documentation will be required demonstrating compliance with the Act before any permit is issued.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: Based on the available information, Federally-listed threatened or endangered species or their critical habitat may be affected by the proposed project. The STB, acting as Lead Federal Agency, has indicated that it will initiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, as appropriate. Documentation will be required demonstrating compliance with the Act before any permit is issued.
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. 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-2019-00308 must be submitted to the office listed below on or before October 31, 2020.
Nicole Fresard, Project Manager
US Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District
Bountiful Regulatory Office
533 West 2600 South, Suite 150
Bountiful, Utah 84010-7744
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 Nicole Fresard, (801) 295-8380 ext. 8321, Nicole.D.Fresard@usace.army.mil.
Enclosure 1: Whitmore Park Route Plans (160 Sheets)
Enclosure 2: Study Area (1 Figure)
Enclosure 3: Alternatives (5 Figures)
Enclosure 4: Mitigation Concepts (1 Figure)