Michigan Land Use Institute

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United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 5

A letter urging federal action

August 10, 1999 |

Mr. James A. Kirschensteiner, PE
Federal Highway Administration
315 West Allegan
Room 207
Lansing, Michigan 48933

Dear Mr. Kirschensteiner:

In accordance with our responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 309 of the Clean Air Act, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) Region 5 has reviewed the Boardman River Crossing Mobility Study Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Section 4(f)/6(f) Evaluation. The evaluation includes alternatives for crossing the Boardman River in Grand Traverse County, Michigan. We have received your request that we provide concurrence and comments regarding the second NEPA/Section 404 concurrence point “Alternatives Carried Forward” along with our comments on the DEIS for this project.

The primary purpose of the project is to replace the transportation service that has been provided by the now structurally deficient and functionally obsolete Cass Road bridge. The existing bridge over the Boardman River is only one lane wide and is posted at 10 tons which prevents larger vehicles from crossing at the Cass Road bridge. The project should also improve east-west surface traffic patterns if a build alternative is implemented. We provided concurrence on the purpose and need for the project in a letter dated May 4, 1999.

The DEIS evaluates a No Build alternative, a Transportation System Management (TSM) alternative, a South Airport Road Widening with Three Mile Road alternative and a Hartman-Hammond Connector with Three Mile Road alternative. Based on our review of the information provided in the DEIS for this project, we have rated the present DEIS as EO-2. The “EO” means that we have environmental objections with the proposed action, and the “2” means that additional information needs to be provided in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) to alleviate these environmental objections. The U.S. EPA identified issues in the area of the characterization of the No Action alternative; alternatives analysis; wetland impacts; water quality and aquatic resource impacts; and secondary and cumulative impacts. Our detailed comments are attached to this letter.

Due to the issues that we have with the characterization of the No Action alternative and the Alternative Analysis we cannot provide our concurrence on the Alternatives Brought Forward at this time. We would be interested in meeting with you to discuss these issues in further detail. It is our hope that we can explain these in more detail so that you can respond to them in subsequent NEPA documentation. We anticipate that we can give our concurrence on Alternatives Brought Forward once these two issues are resolved. If you have any questions about our NEPA/404 concurrence decision or if you would like to discuss our review of the DEIS, please contact Sherry Kamke of my staff at (312) 353-5794.


    cc: Mr. Micheal K. Dillenbeck
    Manager, Grand Traverse County Road Commission
    3949 Silver Lake Road
    Traverse City, Michigan 49684

    Ms. Lori Noblet
    Michigan Department of Transportation
    425 West Ottawa Street
    Lansing, Michigan 48933

    Gerald W. Fulcher Jr., P.E., Chief
    Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
    Transportation and Flood Hazard Management Unit
    Land and Water Management Division
    P.O. Box 30458
    Lansing, Michigan 48909-7958

    Gary R. Mannesto, Chief
    U.S. Army Corp of Engineers
    Regulatory Branch
    Construction-Operations Division
    Box 1027
    Detroit, Michigan 48231-1027

    Craig A. Czarnecki, Field Supervisor
    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    East Lansing Field Office
    2651 Coolidge Road
    East Lansing, Michigan 48823



    Detailed Comments on the Boardman River Crossing Mobility Study
    Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Section 4(f)/6(f) Evaluation
    Grand Traverse County, Michigan

Characterization of the No Action Alternative -
A Boardman River crossing at Hartman-Hammond Road is included in the area’s long-term land use plan (the Traverse City Area Transportation and Land Use Study). It is not clear from the DEIS, however, what effect this fact has had on the land use and population projections for the area. If, for example, a substantial amount of development has already been directed to occur along the Hartman-Hammond corridor in anticipation of a future bridge crossing in that location, or if the area’s population and land use projections have been developed on the specific assumption that a bridge crossing at Hartman-Hammond would in fact be provided, the No-Action alternative described in the DEIS may not be a satisfactory representation of the project’s baseline condition. In other words, the area’s current development patterns, and/or the area’s projections for future land use and development may have been developed on the assumption that a crossing at Hartman-Hammond would be constructed. If so, the No-Build as described in the DEIS would not provide a good reference point from which to estimate a new river crossing’s likely scope and significance of secondary/cumulative impacts. This issue requires further clarification in subsequent NEPA documentation.

Alternatives Analysis -
One of the objectives that was used to determine if an alternative met the purpose and need for the project was that the alternative must improve levels-of-service on the Boardman River crossings adjacent to the Cass Road Bridge, while improving or maintaining levels-of-service on the other crossings, as compared to 2015 No-Build conditions. Based on this criterion, several of the alternatives that were dismissed showed partial improvements. It was not discussed in the DEIS if the project proponents attempted to further modify these alternatives and come up with other possible alternatives. For example, Smart Roads provided a multiple improvement approach to solving the east-west capacity issue across the Boardman River. That alternative does provide for a level-of-service improvement on adjacent bridges but it involves 4(f) impacts that must be avoided if other prudent and feasible alternatives exist. It is unclear if this alternative could have been modified to include different components or if the alternative could otherwise be optimized. Likewise, the DEIS did not show how Travel Demand Management Alternatives (TDMs) such as the Village Center and Urban Growth Boundary alternatives could be combined with other build alternatives to provide an overall alternative that meets the project’s purpose and need. The development of alternatives should be an iterative process to ensure that all feasible alternatives are identified and evaluated. The DEIS should describe how project alternatives were modified and optimized before they were ultimately dropped.

Wetland Impacts -
The South Airport Road Widening and Three Mile Road Widening Alternative would impact 0.2 acres of riverine wetland habitat while the Hartman-Hammond Connector with Three Mile Road Widening Alternative


would impact 4.8 acres of wetland habitat. The direct wetland impacts resulting from the South Airport are less than the Hartman-Hammond Connector alternative. Additionally, the secondary and cumulative impacts to wetlands are likely to be less for the Airport Road alternative because of the built nature of the existing environment in that corridor. Wetland resources are important in this area because they provide water quality protection for tributaries of the Boardman River and they provide an important wildlife corridor within the river valley.

The Section 404(b)(I) Guidelines require that impacts to wetlands be avoided, minimized and mitigated to that maximum amount practicable. From this perspective, the South Airport Road Widening and Three Mile Road Widening Alternative is the environmentally preferred alternative. Furthermore this alternative has not been demonstrated to be impracticable. Based on the information presented in the DEIS, it would have less overall impact to wetlands, groundwater recharge areas and to the Boardman and Mitchell creek watersheds. The resources in these watersheds are substantial. An appropriate mitigation plan will be required for unavoidable impacts to these resources.

Water Quality and Aquatic Resource Impacts -
The DEIS states that direct surface water quality impacts will occur due to temporary increases in turbidity and downstream sedimentation resulting from fill and erosion of exposed soils during construction activities and from enclosing or moving certain portions of various tributaries within the watershed. The DEIS did not discuss in detail the impacts that ongoing use of the build alternatives would have on surface water quality. In Section 5.10.1 of the DEIS, there is a general statement about the quantity of pollutants such as oils, greases and road salt leading to degradation in surface water quality and aquatic resources. Imperviousness is cited as contributing to degradation of Mitchell Creek’s aquatic resources. However, the DEIS did not discuss the impact that stormwater runoff such as that described above would have on these already degraded aquatic resources in the Mitchell Creek and Boardman River watersheds. An analysis of what the incremental change due to project implementation will be to these watersheds both in terms of surface water quality and aquatic resource impacts, should be included in the Environmental Impact Statement. On a related point, a statement that a bridge constructed at the existing Three Mile Road crossing of the East Branch of Mitchell Creek will ultimately improve stream conditions for migratory fish species was not substantiated in the DEIS.

Secondary and Cumulative Impacts -
The DEIS states that secondary and cumulative impacts will occur to the existing natural environment in proportion to the growth and development of the Traverse City area. Secondary and cumulative impacts that will occur as a result of the South Airport Widening Alternative are expected to be relatively minor and the overall socioeconomic secondary and cumulative impacts are more likely to be positive. Whereas, because of the more rural character of the Boardman River valley and the natural resources there, the level of probable secondary and cumulative impacts likely to occur due to the Hartman-Hammond Connector alternative is greater.


The DEIS does a commendable job of reporting on the surface water quality characteristics of the Boardman River and Mitchell Creek watersheds. According to the DEIS, many of the tributaries in the project area exhibit good to excellent surface water quality and some have important components that aid in maintaining cool temperatures in stream which are important to the type of fisheries that exist in the area. The DEIS does discuss what typical construction activities do to streams and watersheds but the DEIS does not go further and describe what the likely impacts would be to the Boardman River and Mitchell Creek watersheds and how those impacts will be mitigated.

Page 4-12 of the DEIS states that approximately 9 percent of the Mitchell Creek watershed is covered by impervious surfaces such as buildings, roads and parking lots. These surfaces prevent the infiltration of surface water into soils and groundwater. At a level of 10 percent imperviousness, the streams begin to exhibit noticeable degradation of water quality and aquatic habitat due to increased surface water runoff and decreased groundwater input. The DEIS should evaluate how secondary and cumulative impacts will affect water quality and aquatic habitat if a build alternative was implemented. A determination of the severity of secondary and cumulative impacts associated with any build alternative and the associated effect it would have on water quality in the Mitchell Creek and Boardman River watersheds should be considered in subsequent planning efforts and the results should be documented in the Environmental Impact Statement.

There has been a history of losses of wetlands in the Boardman River, including the dredging that occurred on the east side of the Boardman River to improve hydraulics downstream of the dam. These wetland losses have a pronounced cumulative effect on the surface water quality and other aquatic resources in the area. The relationship between wetlands losses, aquatic resources such as fisheries, groundwater recharge and discharge areas, and drinking water should be more clearly stated in the DEIS. This will provide the proper background for accurately determining this project’s impacts to those same resources if a build alternative is implemented.

Additional impacts to the Mitchell Creek Watershed have occurred due to sedimentation, selective removal of streambank vegetation and improper installation of culverts. The cumulative impact of these previous actions and implementation of this project must be part of the cumulative impact evaluation in the forthcoming NEPA documentation.

A mitigation plan for this project should be targeted at these issues. We recommend that a watershed specific plan addressing the issues discussed in this section be developed as part of project implementation.

Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
p (231) 941-6584 
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