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Finding of No Significant Impact

Adoption of Environmental Assessments (EAs) prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and National Park Service (NPS), U.S. 321 (State Route 73) between Glades Road and Buckhorn Road in Gatlinburg

Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT)

Section 26a approvals for relocations of Dudley Creek and crossings of Buckhorn Creek and unnamed tributaries to Hills Creek associated with five-lane construction of U.S. 321 (State Route 73), Sevier County, Tennessee

 

Background
Alternatives and Impact Assessment
TVA Review
Conclusion and Findings
Conditions of Section 26a Approval

Background

TDOT submitted an application to TVA for stream relocations and culverts associated with the five-lane construction of U.S. 321 east of Gatlinburg. A Section 26a approval would be needed for the following actions, listed from west to east:

  • Station 10+320, relocation of Dudley Creek
  • Stations 10+546 to 10+770, relocations of Dudley Creek at three locations and minor wetland fill
  • Stations 10+820 to 10+930, culvert extensions on unnamed tributaries to Dudley Creek
  • Station 11+526 to 11+717, relocation of Dudley Creek
  • Stations 13+442, 13+556, and 13+746, culvert extensions on unnamed tributaries to Hills Creek.

As mitigation for the 0.05 acres of permanent wetland impacts, TDOT proposes to debit 0.10 acres from the Shady Valley Wetland Mitigation Bank. As mitigation for stream impacts, TDOT proposes to plant trees, construct meanders, install in-stream habitat structures, and employ Best Management Practices to control erosion and sedimentation. In addition, TDOT proposes to purchase credits from the proposed Tennessee In-Lieu Fee (ILF) program. In the event the ILF program is not operational within one year, TDOT would implement a stream restoration program on McCaulley Branch and Oliver Branch in the nearby Cades Cove area of Blount County.

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Applications for a proposed highway improvement project between Gatlinburg and Pittman Center were submitted in 2000 to permitting agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), TVA, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), and the National Park Service (NPs). USACE, TVA, and the State of Tennessee issued Joint Public Notice 00-113 announcing the project on December 5, 2000. NPs also issued a notice on November 15, 2000. A large volume of comments were received in response to the notices published by the agencies. This included comments from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), Tennessee Historical Commission (THC), Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), and the city of Gatlinburg.

FWS expressed concerns about project segmentation and suggested that a three-lane alternative should be evaluated. The agencies evaluated the project and determined that while two phases are indeed planned, construction of Phase I was independently justified whether or not permit applications are eventually received for Phase II. Accordingly, the agencies concluded that project segmentation has not occurred. In addition, NPs considered the impacts of Phases I and II in their analysis, and concluded that impacts of both segments were insignificant on park resources. Based on traffic projections, a three-lane project would not meet the purpose and need for the project because installation of a turning lane alone would not provide for an adequate level of service on the roadway. Also, a multi-lane facility appears to be needed to maintain an adequate level of service. Accordingly, the agencies did not evaluate the three-lane alternative as a reasonable one. FWS also stated that while there was potential for impact to Indiana bat, time-of-year restrictions on tree cutting would minimize the possibility of any adverse effects.

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TWRA stated their concern for impacts to Dudley Creek, a trout stream, and encouraged mitigation at a stream restoration site in Cades Cove. TDOT subsequently submitted a detailed mitigation plan for a Cades Cove site. THC requested a copy of the archaeological survey for the project. This was provided, and by letter of July 23, 2001, THC concurred that construction of the roadway segment between Glades Road and Buckhorn Road would have no archaeological resources eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. ACHP contacted USACE, TVA, and NPs expressing concerns that activities were taking place by the applicant that would preclude meaningful comment by the council. As indicated above, no National Register-eligible properties were affected by the project. The city of Gatlinburg expressed support for the project and stated that the project would address traffic congestion and safety problems. The city also noted that extraordinary efforts had been taken to design a project that would minimize negative impact on the environment.

More than 10,000 comments were received from individuals and private organizations, most of which were e-mails. The e-mails expressed concern that a five-lane undivided highway would encourage commercial development and additional traffic along the northeastern boundary of the national park. Organizations commenting on the project
included the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the Native American Indian Movement (NAIM).

NPCA and WWF expressed concerns about secondary and indirect development impacts of the project and requested that an Environmental Impact Statement be prepared. NPCA also expressed concerns that the project was being segmented. The agencies considered indirect effects of their federal actions, and determined that the linkages between the federal permits for stream crossings and secondary and indirect development effects are minimal. In general, development along the U.S. 321 corridor east of Gatlinburg has occurred and would likely occur whether or not the highway is upgraded between Glades Road and Buckhorn Road. Within this corridor, a high percentage of available land is already developed. The agencies are unaware of any specific development that would likely occur solely because of the federal authorizations, and based on experience with other projects, upgrades to existing roadways generally have a lower potential for indirect effects than roadways on a new location.

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NAIM initially objected to the project because of the potential for uncovering Native American artifacts or remains. However, they later indicated that after a more detailed investigation, concerns about the first phase of the project were addressed by commitments of the contractor to cease work should any remains be found.

NPs released an EA in February 2001 on a proposed General Agreement for slope easements and stream channel work on Great Smoky Mountains National Park lands. After considering public comments and modifying the General Agreement to delete an intersection realignment at Greenbrier Road, NPs issued a FONSI for the project on December 19, 2001.

The state of Tennessee decided to hold a public hearing on May 10, 2001, to receive comments on its proposed Water Quality Certification (WQC). At the hearing, more than 30 speakers opposed the project because of water quality, segmentation, and induced development concerns. Representatives from the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, WWF, NPCA, and Katuah Earth First were among the commenters. After evaluating public comments, TDEC issued the certification required under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act on October 30, 2001. Technical corrections were made by letter of February 12, 2002. An Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit for an additional stream crossing not in the original permit application also was issued on February 12, 2002. The ARAP also serves as Water Quality Certification for the additional project impacts.

Under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding between TVA and the Department of the Army, dated August 12, 1985, TVA served as a cooperating agency in the preparation of the USACE EA. TVA participated in interagency meetings and commented on a draft of the USACE EA. The proposed road improvements involved a number of culvert extensions and several stream relocations requiring approval under Section 26a of the TVA Act, and public concerns were expressed about water quality and cumulative effects.

After review of public and agency comments, TVA decided that an EA would allow a better understanding of the impacts of this proposal. TVA has determined that the impacts of its Section 26a approvals for stream obstructions associated with improvements to U.S. 321 east of Gatlinburg are adequately assessed in the USACE EA and FONSI of June 11, 2002, which TVA adopts as its own, based upon independent review of the project. In addition, the December 19, 2001, FONSI and January 2001 EA of NPs also have been reviewed by TVA and adopted as its own, based on independent review of the project.

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Alternatives and Impact Assessment

The June 11, 2002, EA prepared by the USACE evaluates the environmental consequences of three alternatives: No Action, the Applicant’s Proposed Action, and the Applicant’s Proposed Action with Additional Modifications and/or Special Conditions.

Under No Action, those portions of the highway that involve stream crossings or stream relocations would not likely be constructed. Under the Applicant’s Proposed Action, the highway would be constructed. Under the Applicant’s Proposed Action with Additional Modifications and/or Special Conditions, measures to minimize impacts to the aquatic environment would be added to the permit. These measures primarily include stringent erosion and sedimentation control measures.

Less than one acre (0.05 acres) of wetlands would be permanently filled, with mitigation occurring through purchases from the Shady Valley Wetland Mitigation Bank. A total of 744 feet of open stream channel would be lost to culverts. As mitigation for the stream channel impacts, TDOT would plant trees, construct meanders, and install in-stream habitat measures. In addition, credits would be purchased from the ILF stream mitigation program. This program requires that impact mitigation take place within the same watershed or ecoregion as the impact area. If the ILF program is not available, TDOT has submitted a contingency mitigation plan which mitigates for stream channel impacts in the Cades Cove area, which is within the same ecoregion as where the impacts are occurring.

There would be temporary impacts on water quality and air quality from construction activities. A long, narrow strip of land, including woodland and residential properties would be affected by construction. Impacts to recreation, aesthetics, and from project noise would be minimal. No historic properties would be affected, and there would not likely be adverse effects to endangered and threatened species as long as larger trees potentially providing Indiana bat habitat were not cut in the summer.

The EA prepared by the NPs evaluates the environmental consequences of two alternatives: the General Agreement Alternative and No Action. Under the No Action Alternative, no national park lands would be disturbed; however, the highway would likely be designed to avoid any approvals from the NPs Larger road cuts would likely result. Under the General Agreement Alternative, ten temporary construction easements, three stream channel shifts, one intersection alignment, and three slope easements would be allowed on Great Smoky Mountains National Park lands. There would be negligible or insignificant impacts on park resources, including air resources, forests, streams, water resources, wildlife, and historic or archaeological resources. NPs determined that implementation of the General Agreement Alternative would not constitute an impairment to Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s resources and values.

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TVA Review

TVA independently reviewed the impacts assessed in the USACE and NPs EAs and confirmed their findings. TVA determined that impacts to floodplains and aquatic resources would be minimized through the use of standard Best Management Practices for water quality protection. TVA has determined that there is no practicable alternative to routing the highway across the floodplain of Dudley Creek because this project involves the expansion of an existing highway from two lanes to five lanes and it would be costly to move the highway to other locations. As a cooperating agency, TVA commented on the draft USACE EA for the U.S. 321 impacts prior to completion. TVA also submitted comments on the NPs EA.

TVA is aware of other reasonably foreseeable actions and past actions that have affected similar wetland and aquatic systems in the area. Other projects which are proposed or are being studied that would cumulatively affect streams and wetlands and the types of habitats affected by this project are possible in the future, including Birds Creek Road improvements, SR 66/SR 448 improvements, and the widening of US 321 between Cosby and I-40. The wetlands and streams to be impacted in this case are providing minimal flood control and wildlife values. The proposed mitigation in the Shady Valley Wetland Mitigation Bank is appropriate because there are no suitable on-site mitigation areas. Stream mitigation in the same ecoregion is also appropriate.

TVA has concluded that with the inclusion of standard Section 26a approval conditions and the commitments contained in the USACE and NPs EAs, the subject construction of U.S. 321 (SR 73), when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions will not have a significant impact on the wetland and stream functions and values in the Tennessee Valley region. Because of the policy requirement that there be no net loss of wetland and stream functions and values, the incremental impact of this project when combined with other actions will not be significant. All future actions will continue to be subject to the “no net loss” requirement.

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Conclusion and Findings

TVA has critically and independently reviewed the USACE and NPs EAs and determined that the scope, alternatives considered, and content of the EAs are adequate and that the impacts on the environment have been adequately addressed. TVA has decided to adopt the NPs and USACE EAs.

TVA has determined that no historic properties would be affected by Phase I of the US 321 project. The letter of July 23, 2001, from THC to the USACE certified that the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act had been met.

Based on the EA, we conclude that the Section 26a approvals for the relocations of Dudley Creek and culvert extensions in tributaries to Dudley Creek and Hills Creek would not be a major federal action significantly affecting the environment. Accordingly, an environmental impact statement is not required. This FONSI is contingent upon successful implementation of Best Management Practices for erosion and sediment control, the debiting of 0.1 acres of credit from the Shady Valley Wetland Mitigation Bank, and stream restoration and mitigation for stream encapsulation within the same Ecoregion or 6-digit Hydrologic Unit Code.

Original signed by:
Jon M. Loney, Manager
NEPA Administration
Environmental Policy and Planning
Tennessee Valley Authority

Date: July 9, 2002

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Conditions of Section 26a Approval

U.S. 321 between Glades Road and Buckhorn Road in Gatlinburg, Dudley Creek and tributaries; Hills Creek tributaries

1. To replace the 744 feet of stream encapsulation associated with this project, stream mitigation and restoration will take place at a ratio of no less than 1:1 on streams in the same Level III Ecoregion as designated on the map “Ecoregions of Tennessee,” by Tennessee Department of Conservation, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, 1998, unless otherwise expressly approved by TVA. The U.S. 321 project is in Ecoregion 66, Blue Ridge Mountains, which includes all or part of the following counties: Blount, Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hawkins, Monroe, Polk, and Sevier. Alternatively, mitigation may take place in the same 6-digit Hydrologic Unit Code. The April 2, 2002, contingency mitigation plan for stream restoration in Cades Cove is located within Ecoregion 66.

2. Trees 5 inches in diameter at breast height or larger may only be cut between October 15 and March 31 to avoid the potential for effects to Indiana bat in the summer.

3. You will comply with all special permit conditions listed in the June 11, 2002, Department of the Army Permit 200002156.

4. You will comply with all special permit conditions listed in the February 12, 2002, and October 30, 2001, Section 401 Water Quality Certifications, the February 12, 2002, Aquatic Resources Alteration Permit issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the General Requirements contained in the U.S. 321 General Agreement between the Department of the Interior and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (Appendix D of NPs EA as modified by December 19, 2001, NPs FONSI).

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Note: To obtain further information or a printed copy of the FWHA Environmental Assessment, please contact:

Harold M. Draper, NEPA Specialist
Environmental Policy and Planning
Tennessee Valley Authority
400 West Summit Hill Dr., WT 8C
Knoxville, TN 37902-1499
865-632-6889
E-mail: hmdraper@tva.gov

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