Comment Period: July 30, 2014 – September 2, 2014
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. The proposed project would result in permanent impacts to 18.75 acres of wetlands and 89.34 acres of other waters of the United States. Temporary impacts include 1.09 acres of wetlands and 27.31 acres of other waters of the United States. The impacts would occur within the construction footprint of PP1 of the Fresno to Bakersfield section, including associated facilities. 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 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 north of 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 proceeding distances are approximations, rounded to the nearest 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 below-grade section under Church Avenue and Jensen Avenue in Fresno.
The HST system would include the HST tracks, structures, stations, traction power substations, maintenance facilities, and train vehicles. The HST would use four different track types. These track types have varying profiles: low, near-the-ground tracks are at grade, higher tracks can be elevated by either a structure or on a retained fill platform, and below-grade tracks are in a retained cut. The types of bridges that might be built include full channel spans, large box culverts, or, for some larger river crossings, piers within the ordinary high-water channel. The track structure would consist of either a direct fixation system (with track, rail fasteners, and slab), or ballasted track, depending on local conditions. PP1 features will require fill material within waters of the U.S. to support the construction of at-grade railway tracks and associated infrastructure and facilities. Fill is also required for the construction of elevated railway tracks, which include piers and retaining walls. River and creek crossings within PP1 (crossing the Kings River, Cross Creek, Tule River, Deer Creek, and Poso Creek) are proposed to occur via the construction of elevated structures or guideways supported by either a cast-in-drilled-hole pile or reinforced concrete pile footing.
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 evaluated in the Fresno to Bakersfield project-level EIR/EIS. A 1,600-foot long refuge track and access road would be located in the vicinity of Corcoran. All fill material would either come from commercial sources, or would be generated on-site as part of a balanced cut-and-fill operation, provided the excavated material is clean and of proper quality to be used as fill. The attached drawings provide additional project details.
PROJECT & PERMIT PHASING: The applicant is requesting phased authorization for construction of PP1 in three construction packages, or phases. Construction Package 1C is approximately 5 miles long, from immediately south of the Fresno Station to 1,000 feet south of East American Avenue in Fresno and is scheduled for construction in the fall of 2014. Construction Package 2/3 is approximately 63 miles long, from 1,000 feet south of East American Avenue to 1 mile north of the Tulare/Kern County Line and is scheduled for construction in the spring of 2015. Construction Package 4 is approximately 32 miles long, from 1 mile north of the Tulare/Kern County Line to the northern right-of-way of 7th Standard Road. The proposed schedule for Construction Package 4 is still being developed. In order to meet the construction schedule, the applicant has requested that separate permits be issued for each construction package. In this public notice we are requesting comments on all three proposed construction packages.
Construction Package 1C would result in permanent impacts to 0.004 acre of wetlands and 0.54 acre of other waters of the United States, and temporary impacts to 3.01 acres of other waters of the United States. Construction Package 2/3 would result in permanent impacts to 5.84 acres of wetlands and 83.98 acres of other waters of the United States, and temporary impacts to 1.09 acres of wetlands and 20.04 acres of other waters of the United States. Construction Package 4 would result in permanent impacts to 12.90 acres of wetlands and 4.83 acres of other waters of the United States, and temporary impacts to 4.25 acres of other waters of the United States.
A public notice was released for this permit application on February 10, 2014, ending March 12, 2014. A subsequent public notice was released on February 28, 2014 to address typographical errors within the original notice. The second notice also restarted the 30-day review period, ending March 31, 2014. This notice is to notify the public of the request for phased authorization and to provide the public additional time to review and comment on the project following the release of the Final EIR/EIS.
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 the 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 a preliminary least environmentally damaging practicable alternative (LEDPA) and result in an integrated NEPA document meeting the needs of the FRA and the Corps. A project-level EIR/EIS was prepared for the Fresno to Bakersfield section by the FRA and the Authority, with the Corps as a cooperating agency. The Final EIR/EIS for the Fresno to Bakersfield section was released in April 2014. The Authority’s Board of Directors certified the EIR on May 7, 2014 and the FRA issued a Record of Decision on June 27, 2014. A copy of the final EIR/EIS 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, 1.57 acres of seasonal wetlands, and 0.01 acre of emergent 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 were 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 final determination of the LEDPA si the responsibility of the Corps and has not been made at this time.
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. A permit cannot be issued until a Section 401 water quality certification or waiver is received for the project.
HISTORIC PROPERTIES: Based on the available information and the California HST Fresno to Bakersfield 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. A memorandum of agreement was executed between these agencies, the Corps, and the Surface Transportation Board in May 2014, to address the treatment of impacts to cultural resources.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The proposed activity would affect Federally-listed endangered or threatened species and 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 28, 2013. The FRA reinitiated consultation on October 8, 2013 due to changes in the proposed alignment. A revised Biological Opinion was issued on April 1, 2014.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT: The proposed project would not affect Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) as defined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
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 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 September 2, 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