Comments Period: July 8, 2016 – August 8, 2016
SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, (Corps) is evaluating a permit application to reconstruct Gunnison County Road 209, commonly referred to as Cottonwood Pass Road, which will permanently impact approximately 2.42 acres and temporarily impact 0.46 acre of waters of the United States, including wetlands. 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.
APPLICANT: Federal Highway Administration
Central Federal Lands Highway Division
Mr. James Herlyck
12300 West Dakota Avenue
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
Mr. Greg Bergquist
Cherokee Nation Government Services
12300 West Dakota Avenue
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
LOCATION: The approximately 12.5-mile long project site is located on Gunnison County Road 209, starting at its intersection with Gunnison County Road 742 (Latitude 38.840852°, Longitude -106.557426°) and ending at its intersection with the Continental Divide (Latitude 38.828155°, Longitude -106.409491°), Gunnison County, Colorado, and can be seen on the CO-Tincup and CO-Taylor Park Reservoir USGS Topographic Quadrangles.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The applicant is proposing to reconstruct approximately 12.5 miles of Gunnison County Road 209. Currently the gravel roadway varies from 18-24 feet in width and does not meet the current design standards for a rural road of 30-35 miles per hour. The reconstructed roadway will be widened to accommodate two 11-foot wide travel lanes each with 1-foot wide shoulders for a total roadway width of 24 feet. The entire length will be surfaced with asphalt. The proposed roadway alignment will meet design requirements for a 35-mph rural major collector between milepost 0.0 and 7.5 and a 30-mph rural major collector between milepost 7.5 and 13.5. The majority of the roadway will be reconstructed within the current alignment except for switchback locations where full realignment will be necessary to achieve current design standards. Pullouts will be maintained as either aggregate base or asphalt. Staging areas will be located in nearby areas that have been previously disturbed for other Forest Service road work projects or that have been used as staging areas for equipment use to conduct other management activities.
Construction of the proposed project would permanently impact approximately 2.42 acres and temporarily impact 0.46 acre of waters of the United States, including wetlands, consisting of the following:
Based on the available information, the overall project purpose is to provide a safe and sustainable roadway that will improve access to Gunnison National Forest lands, reduce maintenance costs, increase roadway safety, and reduce emergency response times. The applicant believes there is a need to reconstruct the roadway to provide improved access to over 180,000 acres of the Gunnison National Forest, and its many recreational opportunities. The attached drawings provide additional project details.
Construction for this project is expected to begin in the spring of 2017 and finish in the fall of 2018. During construction, the road will be closed to the public from 8 am to 6 pm Mondays through Thursdays and 8 am through 12 pm on Fridays. Nighttime work will be allowed to occur on three consecutive weekday nights. The road will continue to be closed during the winter. Maintenance of the road is and will continue to be the responsibility of Gunnison County.
Environmental Setting. The project area is entirely surrounded by lands owned by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and is located within elevations ranging from 9,300 feet to 12,100 feet above sea level. The site is characterized by three main vegetation classifications including alpine zone, subalpine forests, and sagebrush parks. The project lies within Taylor River 10-digit Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) – 1402000101. Hydrology in the project area is characterized by numerous hillside seeps and springs located at higher elevations feeding small streams, ponds, and wetlands. Valley bottoms are comprised of large wetland complexes of palustrine emergent, scrub-shrub, and forested wetland habitats. Snow melt runoff and spring and summer rains contribute to a perched water table which feeds the hillside seeps. There are approximately 9 acres of palustrine scrub-shrub, emergent, and forested wetlands and less than 1.52 acre of riverine resources within the project area. Riverine resources include Pass Creek, which is labeled on the CO-Tincup USGS Topographic Quadrangle, and an un-named tributary located adjacent to the lower end of the project, both of which contribute perennial flows to Taylor Reservoir. Numerous fen wetlands have been identified within the vicinity of the project by previous studies, but no fens will be impacted by this project.
Alternatives. All reasonable project alternatives, in particular those which may be less damaging to the aquatic environment, will be considered. The applicant has identified and analyzed four alternatives. A summary of each alternative is included below. Requests for additional information may be directed to the applicant’s agent or the Corps.
A. No Action Alternative – Alternative A was identified as the alternative that would have no impacts to aquatic features and would not require 404/ 401 Clean Water Act Permits. This alternative would involve the paving of Cottonwood Pass Road with no additional upgrades or improvements to the roadway alignment, width, embankments and drainage structures. While no impacts to aquatic resources would occur, this alternative does meet the project purpose.
B. Partial Off-Site Alternative – This alternative was proposed as part of a larger 1997 project at Cottonwood Pass Road and other areas in the vicinity. However, due to funding constraints the Cottonwood Pass portion of the project was eliminated. The Cottonwood Pass Road improvements that were subsequently eliminated from the 1997 project were included as an alternative for the currently proposed project. This alternative involves roadway paving as well as vertical and horizontal alignment changes, embankment, drainage improvements. This alternative would involve approximately 2.5 miles of roadway re-alignment near Pass Creek. Alternative B is not the preferred alternative.
C. On-Site Alternative #1– Alternative C consists of the re-evaluated design to upgrade Cottonwood Pass Road in 2015. The proposed roadway was redesigned to incorporate updated design and safety standards, address the needs of the roadway and community, and to re-evaluate environmental impacts. This alternative is the 30% design stage of the new roadway design. Alternative C is the preferred alternative.
D. On-Site Alternative #2– Alternative D represents the proposed project for the roadway upgrades. This alternative was built upon the 70% design plans, but included design modification and engineering methods to avoid and minimize environmental impacts. Specifically, this alternative was designed to avoid and minimize the impacts to aquatic resources in the project area while still addressing the needs of the project. Alternative D introduced several standard design exceptions that reduced impacts to aquatic resources without compromising the safety of the roadway. Alternative D has the least amount of temporary and permanent impacts to aquatic resources, while still addressing the needs and goals of the project and being the most cost effective. Alternative D is the proposed project.
The applicant has summarized the alternatives in the following table.
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 worked to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources by shifting the alignment and allowing design variances where appropriate. The applicant has also proposed a combination of on-site and off-site mitigation measures to offset unavoidable impacts. In several high elevation locations, the roadway will be re-aligned to remove the number of switchbacks and the existing roadway will be obliterated. At these on-site locations the applicant has proposed to establish 0.71 acre of new wetlands as part of mitigation. Additionally, the applicant has coordinated with the USFS to identify 0.51 acre of wetlands at nearby locations where aquatic resources are in need of rehabilitation or re-establishment. Additional off-site mitigation will be needed to fully compensate for impacts to aquatic resources.
OTHER GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORIZATIONS: Water quality certification or a waiver, as required under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is required for this project. The applicant has indicated they have applied for certification.
HISTORIC PROPERTIES: Based on the available information (including applicant's report titled Class III Cultural Resource Inventory, Cottonwood Pass Road (County Road 209) and documentation of coordination with the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office), it has been determined that no historic properties will be affected by the proposed project.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: Based on the available information, (including the applicant’s report titled Biological Assessment, Cottonwood Pass Road and documentation of coordination with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service), it has been determined that the project is not likely to adversely affect the continued existence of the federally threatened Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). Additionally, it has been determined that the four endangered Colorado River fish species (Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub, and bonytail) will be adversely affected by water depletions associated with construction that total 21.25 acre-feet of water. These water depletions are addressed by the April 27, 2007, biological opinion regarding one-time small depletions not exceeding 100 acre-feet in any given year occurring in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests due to road construction and reconstruction (not associated with mineral development); road maintenance; recreational area development; range management projects; pipelines; and other activities. As such, depletions of 100 acre-feet or less have been determined to avoid the likelihood of jeopardy to the endangered fishes and to avoid destruction or adverse modification to critical habitat.
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-2015-00946 must be submitted to the office listed below on or before August 8, 2016.
Benjamin Wilson, Project Manager
US Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District
Colorado West Regulatory Branch
400 Rood Avenue, Room 224
Grand Junction, Colorado 81501
PHONE (970) 243-1199
FAX (970) 241-2358
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 Benjamin Wilson, 970-243-1199, Benjamin.R.Wilson@usace.army.mil.
Attachments: 36 Drawings