Coalition for Sensible Growth's Comments on Road Project
The Coalition for Sensible Growth has completed an evaluation of the Environmental Assessment Programmatic Section 4(f)/6(f) Evaluation Cass Road Bridge Replacement on the Hartman/Hammond Road Alignment prepared by the Grand Traverse County Road Commission (EA). Based on this evaluation, which is submitted herein for the public record as a part of the public comment period on the EA, the Coalition has concluded that the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) should not issue a Finding of No Significant Environmental Impact (FONSI) and instead require the Road Commission to complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the complete project as discussed herein.
The Coalition has identified several areas in which the EA fails to comply procedurally with the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Protect Act and other public laws. These include: inaccurate project description, insufficient need for action, failure to consider reasonable and prudent alternatives, failure to comply with the intent of the law, and technical deficiencies and inconsistencies, which are detailed below.
First and foremost, the scope of the project is understated and the project description manipulated to limit the assessment to only one segment of a larger project proposed by the Road Commission, more accurately described in public documents concerning funding for the larger project. As a result, the likely impacts of the project are drawn too narrowly.
The Coalition has identified several areas where the EA understates the harm caused by the preferred alternative, such as by failing to identify a tributary stream flowing underneath the footprint of the preferred alternative. The EA also fails to address harms to the public trust, including recreational areas purchased with Natural Resources Trust Fund moneys in close proximity to the proposed alternative. The EA also states that the Road Commission intends to handle wetland mitigation in a manner contrary to Section 404 of the Clean Waer Act. More significantly, the EA does not provide sufficiently detailed information concerning the design specifications for the Coalition, the EA’s authors, or other competent professionals, to state affirmatively the likely harms caused by the preferred alternative.
The Coalition believes that information presented in the EA contradicts other information submitted by the Road Commission to various public agencies involved in the permitting and funding of the project. Such contradictions support the Coalition's claims that the project for which this EA has been prepared is only a portion of a larger road building project to create a new regional arterial road, the planning for which is well underway. Choosing to arbitrarily segment a project, or intentionally segmenting a project in order to conclude that any given segment does not have significant environmental impact, fails to meet the regulatory requirements set forth in the National Environmental Protection Act.
The Coalition has reached this conclusion based on a review of the document performed by various technical experts including Mardi Black, former staff attorney, U.S. EPA, Ellen Kohler, former U.S. Attorney for endangered species, Jim Olson, attorney, Bob Otwell, PhD, P.E., and Kenneth Smith, PhD, Urban Planning, Arlin Wasserman, MPH MS, Michigan Land Use Institute. Based on this review, the Coalition has concluded that the FHA should not issue a FONSI and, instead, should require the Road Commission to redefine the project and complete an EIS.
I. Project Description
Simply put, the reason for selecting the preferred alternative is because it is part of a larger project, a regional arterial. Preparation of an EIS for the entire project is to be completed in the next several years (Sect. 1.2.4). The Road Commission simply wishes to begin construction on at least this portion of the project without completing the EIS which violates NEPA and other state and federal statutes as well as the conditions under which they can spend federal funds they are soliciting.
The Coalition reaches this conclusions because the Road Commission has stated that bridge is a part of the regional arterial in correspondence to public officials, because contradictory statements exist in the EA, because the need for action is based on the regional arterial, and because the preferred alternative was based on its utility as a part of the regional arterial.
The sole reason for delinking the projects set forth in the EA is:
"Although this recommendation tends to link these two separate projects together, the exact alignment of the US-31 Corridor across the Boardman River will not be known until additional studies have been completed." (Sect. 1.2.4)
Thus, because the Road Commission may decide to build a second four lane bridge across the Boardman River to service the regional arterial, this bridge is a separate project. But if this is true, then the need for action presented in the EA is wholly inaccurate. However, the Coalition believes otherwise.
I.A Contradictory Statements to Other Public Agencies
The EA evaluates the social and environmental impacts of a "preferred alternative" to build a new 4-lane bridge over the Boardman River that aligns with exist two lane roads, Hartman Road and Hammond Road. The EA fails to address the complete project to build a new 4-lane regional arterial road looping southward from the east and west side of Traverse City.
But, in February 4, 1997 letter to Rep. Bart Stupak regarding consideration of funding for "replacement and relocation of a critically deficient Cass Road bridge onto the proposed alignment" by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, states that:
"When adequate funding is available, a thirty-mile Regional Corridor road (Bypass) will be built using the Hartman/Hammond alignment route and bridge."
and also that
"The authorization requested is to increase the $4.5 million previously authorized innovative project number 89 in ISTEA of 1991 by an additional $15.5 million to complete the most critical section of the Traverse City Bypass in crossing the Boardman River with a new bridge and to build the bridge approaches on the existing Hartman/Hammond Road alignments." (This letter is included as Attachment A.)
I.B Overt Contradictory Statements in EA
There are also numerous instances within the EA itself where the projects are considered as one. These include how the preferred alternative was selected and on what basis it was determined that there is a need for action. Section 1.2.3 of the EA indicates that the Cass Road Bridge replacement has been a part of this plan since 1986. The need for action is based on long term traffic projects that presume a regional arterial crossing the Boardman River at the same location as the preferred alternative.
Section 1.2.1 Discusses a Project Area History that includes an area significantly larger than the defined Project Area but paralleling the likely project area for the regional arterial.
The Project Area is to narrowly defined in that it does not include both Beitner and South Airport Road, at least in areas that cross the Boardman River Valley. The benefits of and need for the preferred alternative depend on impacts in these areas.
Discussion of population and employment (Sect. 1.2.2), socioeconomics (Sect. 3.2) and land use (Sect. 3.1) discuss an area significantly larger than the project area described in the EA.
All Previous Studies, including those presented in Sections 1.2.3 and 1.2.4, consider a much larger project area.
Sections 1.3.2 and 1.3.4 states that the negative impacts of the no build alternative, closing of the Cass Road Bridge, are outside the project area. But these negative impacts are the basis for selection of the preferred alternative.
Section 1.3.3 states that the positive impacts to traffic flow from the build alternative are outside the project area. But these benefits are the basis for selection of the preferred alternative.
Section 1.3.4 discusses the relationship to future traffic, but this traffic is in an area much larger the project area, largely corresponding to the likely project area for the regional arterial. This section also states that the majority of trips over the Cass Road Bridge (existing) are inside the project area, thus contradicting other statements of need that consider traffic outside the project area as the primary issue.
I.C Contradiction by Implication
Substantial contradictions relating to the Need for Action also are present. The benefits from the preferred alternative are "long term" and contemporaneous to the regional arterial benefits. The benefits to so called "congestion" on Beitner Road are based on other road improvements creating the regional arterial that will allow large volumes of traffic to use the preferred alternative. The cause of the congestion is land use changes linked to the regional arterial and outside of the project area. Some reasonable, feasible and prudent alternatives, including improvements to Beitner Road are not considered because they are outside of the "project area" even though the project provides its significant benefit in the area--another nexus of contradiction.
II. Need for Action
The need for action is based on assumptions of increased traffic in the project area associated with the regional arterial crossing the Boardman River Valley in the project area utilizing the preferred alternative. If the Road Commission is serious about considering a separate bridge to serve the regional arterial, then the need for action does not exist.
Within the project area, the Road Commission concludes that there is a "low volume of traffic using the crossing" (Section 1.3.1) and does not identify any significant generators of traffic (page 1-10).
Specifically, the Road Commission relies on a flawed traffic model. Attachment B includes a review by TDA Associates of Chicago on the traffic model on behalf of a nearby municipality, the City of Petoskey. Flaws in the computer model cause the user to conclude that much larger volumes of traffic must be managed at peak flow than actually occur in Michigan's rural and tourist communities.
Also, the need for a 4 lane bridge to connect two 2-lane roads is not substantiated. The assumptions regarding the need for a 4 lane bridge, increased traffic volume at the preferred alternative, require completion of the larger regional arterial that will bring the traffic to the preferred alternative. The need to build a four lane bridge within the existing road network is not presented.
There also are several technical shortcomings. These follow.
II.A.1 Section 1.3.4 appears to be written based on old information. The Grand Traverse Mall no longer is "recent" and occupancy is declining. The Grand Traverse Crossings is now open and near full capacity (one vacant retail space only). The traffic count used to justify the need for the preferred alternative likely does not incorporate the current traffic volume east-west south of Traverse City since this major addition. The placement of this large generator of vehicle trips on South Airport Road may prevent the goal of the preferred alternative to shift large volumes of traffic onto a new east-west corridor.
II.A.2 Enclosed please find an analysis of MDOT traffic modeling for tourist communities that shows an overstatement of traffic volumes in the future by more than 40% based on errors inherent in the computer model.
II.A.3 The preferred alternative will cause an increase in vehicle miles traveled. This information is not provided in the EA.
II.A.4 The road segments contiguous to the preferred alternative are two lane roads, incapable of handling the 20,700 vehicles per day that serve as the basis for the design of the preferred alternative. The benefit of the preferred alternative requires additional road building in order to function, thereby defining the construction project as more than the preferred alternative as presented in the project description.
If the project stands as defined, then the need for action is inaccurate and the project should be designed only to handle the 3,200 vehicles per day currently in the project area.
II.A.5 The need for action is based on traffic projects extending into the year 2015. However Section 1.2.4.. states that it is "The Regional Corridor Study [which] focused on long term alternatives" not the project discussed herein. No need for action relevant to the preferred alternative, a four lane bridge at a new crossing location, is presented.
III. Reasonable, Feasible and Prudent Alternatives
The EA states that the Bridge Project is separate from the regional arterial because the replacement meets the immediate concerns associated with the Cass Road Bridge which has been allowed to enter a state of disrepair. In contrast, "The Regional Corridor Study focused on long-term alternatives" (Sect. 1.2.4) not the immediate bridge issue.
However, the discrete preferred alternative is a four lane bridge linking two 2-lane roads. A two lane bridge appears to be a reasonable, feasible and prudent alternative that was not considered. Section 2.3.2 indicates that the lowest cost alternative was selected as the preferred alternative. EA's are not intended to rely on price as the sole consideration. This EA fails to conduct a valuation of natural resources for inclusion, understating the cost of the preferred alternative. Cost of utility relocation also is not included.
The EA also acknowledges that there is a "low volume of traffic using this crossing," referring to the existing Cass Road Bridge. But the reasonable, feasible and prudent alternative of maintaining the existing bridge was not considered. However, the assumptions regarding the need for the preferred alternative, increased traffic volume, is based upon a regional arterial being constructed that incorporates the 4 lane bridge.
Also, Table 1-1 of the EA and elsewhere indicates that the main benefit of the preferred alternative is long term, in 2015, mainly through reduced traffic at the Beitner Road crossing of the Boardman River. However, improvement of the Beitner Road Crossing is not considered. Also unstated, is that Beitner Road traffic will only be able to utilize the preferred alternative at the 20,700 vehicle per day rate if the regional arterial is constructed that includes the bridge. Otherwise, the preferred alternative is simply a four lane bridge connecting two 2-lane roads.
There also are many alternatives not considered sufficiently. Mr. Ken Smith, a member of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee states that:
"The statement of the problem presented to the Citizens’ Advisory Committee was excessively narrow. The mandate was NOT presented as finding the best solution to traffic congestion on nearby roadways or to simply replace the inadequate bridge at the Cass dam. Rather, the problem was posed as ‘finding the best alignment for a four-lane road connection US-31 with Hammond Road.’ The solution was predetermined: build a new road. Alternatives such as improving South Airport Road or simply upgrading the Cass Bridge to two lanes were either dismissed out of hand or rejected as not meeting the objectives of the study. Later, the Advisory Committee’s choice of a preferred alternative (i.e., a specific route out of the several that were proposed) was characterized in the Road Commission’s public relations as the ‘solution’ to the problems of traffic congestion and the unsafe bridge. This was a mischaracterization of the Committee’s role in the study and of the decision that was approved.
"The meeting at with the Advisory Committee ‘approved’ the final alignment was held during the day while a severe snowstorm had shut down the entire Area. It should have been postponed (most other meetings and activities scheduled for that day were postponed, including the school system and local government). Only a handful of Advisory Committee members attended; it is doubtful whether there was a quorum."
Most importantly, the conclusion of the Advisory Committee and supporting documentation that the preferred location at "the Harman-Hammond corridor was a more prudent and feasible location for the Cass Road Bridge Replacement project" (Sect. 5.3) is not supported. That thirteen alternatives were considered is immaterial if viable alternatives, such as those identified on page 6-3 of the EA but otherwise not discussed, were excluded out of hand or by arbitrarily selecting a narrow project area that did not even extend to Beitner and South Airport Roads.
III.A Alternatives Not Adequately Considered
III.A.1 The EA fails to consider the freespan bridge alternative other than to mention that this alternative was discarded without significant consideration. Page 2-17 of the EA notes this alternative was cost prohibitive but no cost was given in order compare the cost of freespan bridge construction to the cost of the preferred alternative cost of construction, purchase of wetland mitigation sites, and wetland mitigation, as well as unquantified degradation of aesthetics and natural resources.
III.A.2 The Citizens Advisory Committee and the EA both fail to consider the alternative of constructing a two lane bridge at the current Cass Road Bridge location. The Committee was immediately charged with locating a four lane structure. Nowhere in the EA is the basis for selecting a four lane structure presented.
III.A.3 Section 2.3.1 indicates that engineering would be difficult to replace and upgrade the existing Cass Road Bridge. However, the Road Commission is in receipt of an engineering estimate and preliminary design from the Delew-Kather, authors of the EA, indicating such a project feasible and 90% less expensive than the preferred alternative.
The EA also notes repeatedly that the eligibility for the hydroelectric dam on which the Cass Road Bridge sits to be listed on the State Registry of Historical Sites is a significant impediment to reconstructing the Cass Road Bridge to handle a higher traffic volume. However, eligibility of the dam for listing was unknown until August, 1996 and C-3 through C-5 indicates that listing is not a certainty. In an event, the eligibility for listing was not known to the Road Commission until well after it and the Citizens' Advisory Committee eliminated this alternative in 1995. The reasons for not preferring this alternative at the time of the decision-making is not stated in the EA.
The EA also provides no information to support the assertion that replacing the existing Cass Road Bridge in the general vicinity of the existing structure "were considered to be too great to warrant further consideration." (Section 2.3.1) or that "it would be very difficult to maintain the historic nature of the bridge" (Section 2.3.1) when replacing it.
Also, the EA fails to provide information supporting the conclusion that relocation of modification to the structure would impact power generation (Sect. 2.3.1) and fails to compare the cost of modification of the existing structure and compared to construction of a new bridge at a new location.
III.A.4 In Exhibit H-3 of the EA, Mr. Dan Pearson states that the MDNR does not favor multiple crossings of the Boardman River Valley. The Road Commission also has told the Grand Traverse County citizens repeatedly that construction of the preferred alternative would avoid the need to build an additional bridge to support a new regional arterial road (or "beltway"). The Road Commission, in correspondence to Rep. Bart Stupak and to the Public Works Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, also states that the new bridge will be a part of the Hartman/Hammond-Three Mile Road Bypass.
However, Section 1.2.4 of the EA states that "the corridor study team recommended the proposed Cass Road bridge replacement structure on the Hartman/Hammond alignment as a slink within the regional corridor. Although this recommendation tends to link these separate projects together, the exact alignment of the US-31 Corridor across the Boardman River will not be known until additional studies have been completed." Thus, the Road Commission contemplates that possibility of building a second four lane bridge in close proximity to the preferred alternative once the US-31 Corridor alignment study is completed.
One alternative is to delay construction of the Hartman/Hammond Bridge until the US-31 Corridor alignment study is completed. This "delay build" alternative would eliminate the need for 2 four lane bridges over the Boardman River Valley and significantly reduce the environmental impact on the Boardman River. The Road Commission traffic studies in the EA and as presented public by TC-TALUS do not support the need for two 4-lane bridges crossing the Boardman River north of the existing Cass Road Bridge and south of South Airport Road.
III.A.5 The additional traffic volume in the project area used by the Road Commission in selecting the preferred alternative is based on a traffic modeling study performed by TC-TALUS that presumes construction of a new US-31 Corridor proximate to the project area and Beitner Road. According to Section 1.2.4 of the EA, the US-31 Corridor Study is not complete and the alignment is unknown. That said, until the US-31 Corridor Study is completed, the need for the bridge is not certain. Indeed, if the US-31 Corridor Study indicates that another bridge crossing is preferable, the traffic projections may indicate no need for the preferred alternative.
III.A.6 Page 2-7 of the EA indicates that purchase of access control rights are not part of the preferred alternative. However, no analysis is performed to determine the cost of access rights which improve the efficiency of the transportation system and the ability to build a 2 lane bridge with lower construction costs and lesser environmental impacts.
III.A.7 Investment of a similar size in BATA is not explored. BATA is considered unlikely to provide sufficient service based on current limited resource. This indicates a pro-road building bias and a failure to consider this alternative is a substantive manner. The EA also discusses a large number of "in-project" trips that could be serviced using the current BATA system, but this alternative is not explored.
IV. Technical Deficiencies
IV.A. Aesthetic Evaluation
IV.A.1 The EA fails to take into account various aesthetic impacts such as visual disturbance, increased surface water turbidity, noise pollution, degraded air quality and light pollution from individuals recreating in the river. Fishing, canoeing and hiking are common uses of the Boardman River. Individuals recreating in the Nature Education Reserve south of the proposed project location are unable to differentiate that portion of the river and valley that are inside or outside of the Nature Education Reserve’s boundaries.
IV.A.2 The EA notes that far ranging views will be screen by existing vegetation. However, the structure in the valley and above the river will not be screened by vegetation, there being minimal vegetation in this area.
IV.B Groundwater Water and Surface Water Quality
IV.B.1 Section 3.4.2 of the EA notes that the preferred alternative will add approximately 18.2 acres of impermeable surface in the study area but does not affirmatively conclude that this will or will not affect groundwater recharge. The EA does note that "[t]his area is a minor portion of the total...Boardman River Watershed," perhaps intending to imply impact may be minor.
IV.B.2 The EA also fails to discuss the impact on groundwater recharge and groundwater discharge to various tributaries, including the most proximate tributary to the project which flows underneath the bridge, and which the EA fails to identify. Impacts to groundwater recharge and discharge to tributaries occurs on a smaller scale where 18.2 acres of impermeable surface may be a significant portion of the related permeable surfaces.
Specifically, on page 3-22 of the EA, the impact on tributaries, including Jack’s Creek, are not discussed. Declines in plant diversity and overall integrity are likely results of run-off, change in sheet flow through wetlands, and damming effects resulting from the significant impact of the preferred alternative.
IV.B.3 Sections 4.3 and 4.4 of the EA do not discuss the secondary, cumulative and indirect impacts of the preferred alternative. To the extent the preferred alternative changes adjacent land use, erosion sedimentation and storm water resulting from these changes are not considered.
IV.B.4 Air deposition from emissions from additional vehicles brought into the project area also are not considered.
IV.B.5 The EA does not present any information concerning current groundwater flow. The additional fill volume may affect groundwater flow and this impact is not addressed even by assertion.
IV.C Wetland Impacts and Hydrogeological Considerations
Section 4.5 of the EA discusses the wetland mitigation plan which includes developing between 1.5 and 2 acres of new wetlands for each acre of wetland destroyed by the preferred alternative. As discussed in IV.C.1, the EA understates the harm to wetlands caused by the preferred alternative. However, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires that those who seek to restore wetlands as a mitigation measure must show sequentially that they have avoided unnecessary impacts, minimized environmental harm, and then compensate for unavoidable harm through creation or restoration of other wetlands.
The Road Commission fails to meet the standard. It has not avoided unnessary impacts. At a minimum, a freespan bridge would require no fill to be placed on top of existing wetlands. No construction and design specifications are provided to determine if the Road Commission intends to minimize environmental harm. Having failed the sequential test, the restoration of wetlands is not an appropriate mitigation measure.
Specific technical deficiences associated with the assessment of harm and mitigation plan are discussed below.
IV.C.1 Section 4.5 of the EA discusses impacts to wetlands. To avoid direct impact, the EA discusses locating the proposed roadway as close as possible to the existing wetland grade to minimize the footprint of the fill that is proposed. Indirect wetland impacts discussed including soil erosion, sedimentation and storm water. Potentially the most important direct wetland impact, and one that is not discussed, is the impact of the fill to adjacent wetlands due to the alteration of surface water patterns. On the west side of the Boardman River, the former Boardman River bed and an existing small tributary flow to the north.
Given the direction of flow of other surface waters in and around the study area, it is likely that the surface water flow that feeds the wetlands in this area also trends northerly (an no statement in the EA contradicts this) and therefore would be bisected by the proposed road embankment. The proposed fill across the valley, which will be close to 200 feet wide, will create a dam that will pond surface water on the upstream side and reduce water levels on the downstream side. Although culverts can be utilized to help minimize alterations, there would be impact to adjacent wetlands caused by the interruption of the natural surface water flow.
The EA provides no design specifications regarding compaction or removal of hydric soils underneath the footprint of the fill. The EA also provides no design specifications regarding the method for permitting the flow of water through the fill and between wetlands north and south of the footprint of the fill. No method for permitting flow is as efficient as the existing wetlands, so the likely harm will be greater than the harm stated in the EA. However, the extent of harm cannot be determined without design specifications; there is no information upon which the EA can conclusively determine the harm to wetlands from the preferred alternative.
IV.C.2 Section 4.5 of the EA also discusses minimizing direct wetland impacts by making the proposed roadway grade as close as possible to the wetland grade. However near the west embankment of the river valley, the road embankment is over 30 feet high. If due to the terrain, it is impossible to minimize this distance, it may be prudent to look harder at providing a clear span bridge across the river valley rather than an embankment.
IV.C.3 Section 4.5 of the EA fails to conclude that the wetlands restored as part of a mitigation program will provide functional equivalency. The restoration is not conclusively shown to be sufficient, in part, because the area for restoration includes some level of wetland functionality.
IV.C.4 The Draft Bridge Permit Application to the Army Corps of Engineers is not completed. Completion of the Draft Permit is necessary for a full evaluation of the EA.
IV.C.5 While the EA acknowledges that wetland mitigation is necessary to compensate for the loss of wetlands, mitigation sites are proposed along the river. Wetlands are complicated organisms that are a delicate balance of hydrology, soil, and vegetation The proposed "replacement" wetlands certainly cannot replace the ancient cedar wetlands that will be destroyed by the project. The mitigation plan does not adequately set forth a means for creating equivalent wetlands.
IV.C.6 The EA fails to determine if the plant species present in the wetlands adjacent to the footprint of the preferred alternative (including fill slope) will be affected by runoff. Presence of hazardous compounds and gradual change in soil chemistry could decrease wetland plant diversity.
IV.D Noise Pollution
IV.D.1 The EA fails to measure increased noise at the river bank or in the river where fishing, canoeing and hiking are commonplace events. Also, while the EA does indicate that increased noise levels were forecast for a point inside the Nature Education Reserve, the location of the sample point is not identified (Sect. 3.9). Therefore, one cannot conclude that noise levels at the northern boundary of the Reserve will increase by less than 15 db.
Finally, the wetland mitigation program calls for incorporating the mitigation site into the Nature Education Reserve such that the northern boundary of the Reserve is adjacent to the bridge structure. Noise levels in this new portion of the Reserve are certain to increase by more than 15 db.
IV.D.2 The EA fails to determine if the level of noise at the location of the preferred alternative is sufficient to cause the decline of sensitive vertebrates including mink, beaver and wood turtle.
IV.E Environmental Justice
Section 3.2.1 of the EA notes that "No low-income or minority populations are known to exist within the project area." The EA does not include sufficient analysis to determine environmental justice impacts The EA fails to determine if residents in two nearby manufactured housing developments qualify as low-income and, if so, to determine the disproportionate impact of the preferred alternative on this population.
IV.F Air Pollution
IV.F.1 The EA finds that an unquantified reduction in air pollution will be achieved as a result of the preferred alternative through a reduction in time spent by vehicles idling while waiting to cross the one lane bridge and by an increase in traffic speed. The U.S. EPA Auto Emission Testing Facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan has found that increased rate of speed is linked to more, not less, emission of air contaminants from automobiles.
IV.F.2 The preferred alternative also will increase vehicle miles traveled by as much as 124,200 miles per day from cars traveling additional miles to use the new bridge rather than existing east-west crossings (20,700 cars at six miles per car). The U.S. EPA also has found that increases in air quality are due largely to improved technology and that increases in vehicle miles traveled offsets more than offsets any gains in air quality.
IV.F.3 Finally, the preferred alternative includes traffic projects that presume the preferred alternative will be incorporated into the By-pass, an assumption that is contradicted in portions of the EA for purposes of limiting the scope of the project but contradicted elsewhere, including in documents soliciting federal funding for the project. Based on this modeling, the preferred alternative incudes increasing the number of vehicles in the project area by between 6,400 and 17,500 vehicles per day. No determination is made as to the impact on air quality from increased vehicles in the project area.
IV.F.4 Given that the preferred alternative has been included as a part of the By-pass, the overall effects of dramatic increases in vehicle speed and vehicle miles traveled as a result of constructing the By-pass are directly attributable to the preferred alternative but are not assessed in the EA.
IV.G Light Pollution
The project area is adjacent to the region's only observatory, the Northwestern Michigan College Observatory. Light pollution from development more distant than the preferred alternative already has limited the performance of the observatory. The EA fails to address the potential impact of light pollution. 40 CFR 1500 also includes light pollution as one of the impacts that must be evaluated in EAs.
IV.H Endangered Species and Other Wildlife
IV.H.1 The assessment of the proposed alternative on Threatened and Endangered Species is inadequate. The siting of listing species in the project area indicates likelihood of a significant impact. The impact of the preferred alternative extends beyond the boundaries of the project area (as indicated by the study on noise impacts Sect. 3.9 for instance.) Also, the siting of listed species is sufficient to require an EIS prior to issuing a FONSI.
IV.H.2 Exhibit H-9 notes that the MDNR database consulted may be inadequate. "Records are not always up-to-date, and may require verification. In some cases, the only way to obtain a definitive statement on the status of natural features is to have a competent biologist perform a complete field survey." (Sargent, August 23, 1995).
Exhibit H-1 of the EA includes a statement that the United States Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service "recommends your agency annual request updates." The EA was published two years after the July 26, 1995 report from DoI that no endangered species were known to be in the project area. No annual updates are included in the EA.
IV.H.3 No documentation exists that the Road Commission provided information to the DoI or MDNR that Bald Eagles and Osprey were sited in the project area or that six listed species were known to be in an area proximate to the project area. On Page 6-2, the EA states that DoI and MDNR have no record of listed species in the Project Area which indicates they had not review the Odum study (1991) concerning bald eagle and osprey in the project area. What additional records where withheld by local officials is not discussed in the EA.
In 1996, Grand Traverse County conducted a survey of flora and fauna in the Nature Education Reserve adjacent to the project area. The results of this survey are not noted.
IV.H.4 The wood turtle, one of the listed species present near the project area (Sect. 3.7.4) , is a vertebrates sensitive to noise pollution. The EA does not determine if noise at the site of the preferred alternative may cause the decline of these species.
IV.H.5 The EA fails to address the impact on wildlife migration from the fill slopes.
IV.H.6 The EA addresses impact to wildlife in Section 3.7.3 by stating that "[s]pecies which are sensitive to human activity and noise may relocate to less-developed areas." However, the need for action is based on increased and rapid development in and around the project area.
IV.I Aquatic Resources
Section 3.6.2 of the EA makes an assertion that "It is anticipated , however, that the [trout] activity [in the project area] is the result of temporary migration of trout to this stream section from down stream locations and not from the resident river population. No information is presented to support this statement.
IV.J Land Use
IV.J1 Section 1.2.1 of the EA characterizes the preferred alternative as a "continuation of the historical commercial and industrial use" of the river valley." Section 3.1.6 states that Garfield Township's Comprehensive Land Use Plan "indicates a trend away from agricultural uses toward rural, moderate, and medium density residential development."
However, the Grand Traverse County Master Plan (1996) and the Garfield Township Zoning Ordinance designate the project area as largely vacant, rural and natural preservation areas. Indeed, Exhibit 3-2 of the EA indicates that a majority of land adjacent to the project area is zoned agricultural, rural or vacant.
This creates a nexus of contradiction. While Garfield Township’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan may contemplate the construction of a regional arterial road and a dramatic change in land use, the Road Commission's characterization of the use of the river valley is inaccurate. Thus, the bridge is aesthetically incompatible or the land use changes caused by the preferred alternative need to be determined. Grand Traverse County also purchased the Templeton Property using Natural Resource Trust Fund moneys in order to expand the Nature Education Reserve northward and encompassing the location of the preferred alternative.
IV.J.2 Section 2.1 states that the Bridge is a response to projected development in the project area, in contradiction to other statements that little development is expected. This is discussed further in Land Use 1.0.
Based on statements of no or limited development near the project area, the implication is that traffic volumes will not increase unless the preferred alternative is built.
Section 2.1 indicates that higher traffic volumes "could lead to higher than average accident rates." The Road Commission also has data that shows over capacity roads in the region are not subject to higher than average accident rates. This reason for discarding the no-build alternative is not substantiated.
IV.L Waste Management
Section 4.8 does not indicate that the construction debris and solid waste will comply with regulations set forth by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Failure to do so may have adverse impacts on the environment not contemplated in the EA.
IV.M Section 4(f)/6(f) Resources
IV.M.1 The Grand Traverse County Nature Reserve and the Natural River designation for the Boardman River are approximately 1,400 feet south of the proposed bridge location. Section 3.1.3 discusses the current open space usage of this corridor near the bridge for fishing, hiking, canoeing, etc., along with the proposed development of the Boardman Valley Trail. Under Wetland Mitigation (Section 4.5), there is a discussion of providing for wetland mitigation in an area between the current Nature Reserve and the bridge project. On page 4-6, the EA indicates that the Road Commission intends to incorporate the mitigation site into the Nature Reserve, which would extend the river frontage for the Reserve by over 2,000 feet. This would extend the Nature Reserve to a point north of the proposed bridge site. If the Road Commission plans on this extension of the Nature Reserve, then the EA should be revised to study the environmental impacts of the project considering that the proposed bridge crosses through the Nature Reserve.
Also, Section 5.5 incorrectly states that "the northernmost portion of the Reserve does not have maintained trails or park amenities and does not represent a destination for the majority of visitors." In fact, this portion of the reserve has a trails system funded by the MDNR, a Section 4(f) resource. This Section 4(f) resource will be impacted by the preferred alternative and this impact is not included in the EA.
Finally, Grand Traverse County has purchased the Templeton Property, a Section 4(f) resource, with moneys from the Natural Resources Trust Fund in order to expand the Nature Education Reserve northward and encompassing the location of the preferred alternative. No assessment of impacts on this 4(f) resource has been completed.
IV.M.2 As discussed above, the EA fails to document the need for action that may adversely impact Section 4(f)/6(f) Resources. No two lane replacement bridge was considered because the preferred alternative is part of a larger project, the impact of which is not evaluated. The EA does not indicate any need for action as it relates to limited project described therein. Moreover, there is insufficient study of the impact on section 4(f) resources resulting from the larger project.
IV.N Community Involvement and Public Comment
IV.N.1 The Road Commission failed to hold a public hearing on the EA. Instead, an open house format was used; public comment was limited to statements individually dictated to a court reporter. However, Road Commission officials or their hired consultants engaged at least two individuals giving statements to the court reporter in argumentative conversation preventing those individuals from delivering to the court reporter the statements they originally intended to enter into the public record.
IV.N.2 The EA fails to note significant opposition to the project provided prior to the publication date. The Traverse City Planning Commission and Village of Elk Rapids both have concluded that the project goes against stated public purposes. Numerous organizations including the Michigan United Conservation Clubs and the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council have concurred formally.
IV.N.3 The EA misrepresents supporting agencies. Several members of the CAC disagree with the description of their conclusions as presented in the discussion of alternatives
IV.N.4 Section 3.13 of the EA generally describes, albeit inaccurately, the "Roads and Bypass Committee." New Designs for Growth, sponsored by the Traverse Area Chamber of Commerce, is an organization that promoting a region-wide effort to respond to the area's steady growth. It formed the Roads and Bypass Committee. Group A is working on a $20,000 study of the costs and benefits of the preferred alternative and several alternatives not considered in the EA. While this study is not complete, the results of which are not available; this project is funded by the Chamber of Commerce and TC-TALUS. Group B, composed of planning officials and local elected officials, is working on land use issues in areas adjacent to project area. This group's work is not complete so there is no determination as to whether or not the project will impact land use and, if so, in an adverse manner or not.
IV.O. Secondary, Cumulative and Indirect Impacts
The EA fails to address the secondary, cumulative and/or secondary environmental, social, cultural, historical and economic impacts from changes in use of lands adjacent to the proposed project. The Road Commission used forecasts of changes in land use if the Hartman/Hammond Corridor is constructed when evaluating traffic demand, adjacent land use and environmental impacts. Currently, lands adjacent to the project are zoned agricultural and residential. The Garfield Township master plan calls for these lands to be rezoned to commercial and industrial after the project is built. The Road Commission failed to determine the impacts as compared to land use, development and traffic demand in the area if the project were not built.
In a similar instance, Federal District Court Judge Suzanne Conlon wrote that, "Environmental laws are not arbitrary hoops through which government agencies must jump." Judge Conlon found against the Illinois Department of Transportation in a citizens suit concerning a proposed southward extension to Interstate Highway 355, citing the failure of the Department to forecast growth if the extension were not built and to determine if the road building project would cause sprawling development, a secondary impact.
IV.P Eligibility of Various Attributes to be Designated as State Resources
The Road Commission has investigated whether or not the current Cass River Bridge may be eligible for historical designation. While the State Historical Commission has not designated it a historical structure, the Road Commission relies heavily on its eligibility for consideration when determining what alternatives to consider. This is discussed in greater detail in Item III.A.
However, the Road Commission has failed to investigate whether this section of the Boardman River is eligible for the Natural and Scenic Rivers Program and whether or not the Boardman River Valley is eligible for listing as a historic landscape by the State Historical Commission. That portion of the Boardman River extending to Sabin Pond already has been listed as a Natural River.
The Boardman River Valley contains perhaps the only remaining physical evidence of the activities of the region’s turn of the century lumbering industry. This is in the form of the earthen berms and other channelization structures along the river that were created to facilitate the flow of logs from points in the Boardman River watershed downstream to lumber mills in Traverse City. Indeed, there may be other artifacts of the lumber barons’ activities in the river valley that are yet undiscovered.
The wetland mitigation plan will destroy these structures in an attempt to recreate wetlands that the EA asserts were eliminated when the lumbermen channelized the Boardman river. Whether or not those assertions are true has not been adequately studied. But, the mitigation scheme would irretrievably erase perhaps the last remaining vestige of the lumbering industry that was crucial in establishing Traverse City as a modern habitation.
The lumber barons’ berms obviously pre-date the Cass hydroelectric dam and bridge and have potentially much broader significance than those structures in the historic development of this region. Moreover, the flooding of the valley could destroy other artifacts of the lumbering period and prior human habitation of the Valley. The EA has failed to identify or recognize those historical artifacts and structures.
The entire Boardman River Valley between Beitner Road and South Airport Road should be carefully studied to determine if it qualifies for designation as an Historic Site or Historic Landscape before any road building or wetland alternation schemes are considered further.