SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, (Corps) is evaluating a permit application to construct Permit Phase 1 (PP1) of the California High-Speed Train (HST), Fresno to Bakersfield project. This project would result in permanent impacts to 108.09 acres of waters of the United States, including 18.75 acres of wetlands, and temporary impacts to 28.39 acres of waters of the United States, including 1.09 acres of wetlands. The impacts would occur within the construction footprint of PP1 of the Fresno to Bakersfield section, including associated facilities.
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 100-mile project is located generally along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad corridor between Fresno and Bakersfield. The alignment begins on the south side of State Route (SR) 41, adjacent to Monterey Street in Fresno (Latitude 36.723794° N, Longitude -119.784306° W), and ends at the intersection of 7th Standard Road and Santa Fe Way in Shafter, Kern County, California (Latitude 35.441519° N, Longitude -119.199130° W). The project traverses portions of Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Kern counties.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) proposes to construct, operate, and maintain an electrically powered, high-speed, steel-wheel-on-steel-rail technology intercity train service which would include the latest technology, safety, signaling, and automated train-control systems. The 800-mile train system would connect the major metropolitan regions of Northern California to those in Southern California. 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 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. The proposed project would construct the initial 100-mile segment of the Fresno to Bakersfield Section, terminating prior to entering the Rosedale and Bakersfield area. The permit area includes two fully grade-separated tracks within a 60 to 120-foot right-of-way, associated facilities, and portions of existing surface streets that would be realigned or modified to cross the alignment. The alignment would be largely at-grade (73 miles), with sections on retained embankment (9 miles), elevated (16 miles), and below-grade (1 mile). The tracks would be elevated over Golden State Boulevard, SR 99, and BNSF at Conejo Avenue, in Fresno County, the Kings River Complex, San Joaquin Valley Railroad, SR 198, and Cross Creek in Kings County, BNSF at the Tule River and Alpaugh railroad spur in Tulare County, and Poso Creek, through Wasco, and through Shafter in Kern County. The proposed alignment also includes a 1.28-mile below-grade section under Church Avenue and Jensen Avenue in Fresno.
Associated facilities would be located within the construction footprint throughout the alignment. Traction power stations would be approximately 32,000-square feet (sf) and located at approximately 30-mile intervals. Approximately 9,600-sf switching stations would be located at 15-mile intervals, and 8,000-sf paralleling stations would be located at 5-mile intervals. Signaling stations would be installed near track switches and grouped with other facilities where possible. A maintenance-of-way facility would be co-located with the heavy maintenance facility (HMF), if the HMF is located within PP1. If the HMF is not located within PP1, the maintenance-of-way facility would be located at one of the proposed HMF locations. A 1,600-foot long refuge track and access road would be located in the vicinity of Corcoran. The source of all fill material would either come from permitted commercial sources, or would be generated on-site as part of a balanced cut-and-fill operation, provided the cut material is clean and of proper quality to be used as fill. The attached drawings provide additional project details.
The applicant has proposed to construct PP1 in three construction packages, or phases. Construction Package (CP) 1C of PP1 is approximately 5 miles from just south of the Fresno Station to East American Avenue in Fresno and is scheduled to commence in fall 2014. CP 2/3 extends 63 miles from East American Avenue to 1 mile north of the Tulare/Kern County Line and is scheduled for construction in the spring of 2015. CP 4 extends 32 miles from the end of CP 2/3 to 7th Standard Road. The proposed schedule for CP 4 is still being developed.
The overall project purpose is to implement the Fresno to Bakersfield 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. The capacity of California’s intercity transportation system, including the south San Joaquin Valley region, is insufficient to meet existing and 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 result in an integrated NEPA document meeting the needs of the FRA and the Corps. An EIR/EIS is being prepared for this project by FRA and the Authority, with the Corps as a cooperating agency. The Revised Draft EIR/Supplemental Draft EIS was released in July 2012. A copy of the draft document can be found on the Authority’s website at: http://www.hsr.ca.gov/Programs/Environmental_Planning/index.html.
Environmental Setting: Typical land uses occurring within the proposed footprint include agricultural, rural residential, and urban (industrial, commercial, and residential). Public lands along the alignment include Pixley National Wildlife Refuge, Allensworth Ecological Reserve, and Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. The proposed project would result in permanent impacts to approximately 18.75 acres of wetlands, including approximately 17.17 acres of vernal pools and 1.57 acres of seasonal wetlands. Permanent impacts to approximately 89.34 acres of other waters of the U.S. would include approximately 2.08 acres of seasonal riverine, 34.37 acres of retention/detention basins, and 52.89 acres of canals/ditches.
Alternatives: The alternatives analysis in the EIR/EIS includes a main north-south alternative, generally following the BNSF corridor, with bypass alternatives near urban and environmentally sensitive areas. Bypass alternatives are located in the vicinity of Hanford, Corcoran, Allensworth, and Wasco/Shafter. Through the multi-agency review process and response to comments on the draft EIR/EIS, a preferred alternative and proposed preliminary LEDPA was identified by the applicant. The proposed project is the applicant’s preferred alternative, and generally follows the BNSF corridor, bypassing the city of Hanford to the east, the city of Corcoran to the east, and Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park and community of Allensworth to the west. The Corps concurred on December 19, 2013, that the preferred 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 submitted the draft Fresno to Bakersfield Compensatory Mitigation Plan, dated November 2013. The Corps is currently reviewing the draft plan as part of the review of the permit application. The permit cannot be issued until a final mitigation plan has been approved by the Corps.
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, but has not received certification at this time.
HISTORIC PROPERTIES: Based on the available information and the California HST Merced to Fresno Historic Properties Survey Report, potentially eligible cultural resources may be affected by 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 National Historic Preservation Act. The Authority and FRA continue to identify the impacts and mitigation for each individual resource.
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 pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. A Biological Opinion was issued on February 18, 2013. The FRA reinitiated consultation on October 8, 2013 due to a shift in the proposed alignment north of Corcoran.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT: The proposed project would not 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 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 March 31, 2014.
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, by phone at 916-557-6746, or email at Zachary.M.Simmons@usace.army.mil.
Attachments: 15 drawings