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Finding of No Significant Impact

Adoption of Federal Highway Administration Environmental Assessment (EA)

U.S. 231 bridges across Tennessee River

Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT)

Section 26a approval for fill and bridges across Tennessee River associated with the proposed six-lane construction of U.S. 231, Tennessee River Mile 333.3, Wheeler Reservoir, Madison and Morgan Counties, Alabama

Background
Alternatives and Impact Assessment
TVA Review
Conclusion and Findings
Commitments

Note on Printed Copies

Background

ALDOT has submitted an application to TVA for placement of fill and bridge replacements associated with the six-lane construction of U.S. 231 across the Tennessee River and its floodplain south of Huntsville. The project would involve the replacement of the existing southbound and northbound river bridges, as well as two southbound relief bridges in the floodplain. The northbound relief bridges would be widened, and the elevated roadways across the Tennessee River floodplain would be widened. In association with the road widening and bridge construction, 4.95 acres of wetland would be filled. An approval under Section 26a of the TVA Act would be needed for these obstructions in the Tennessee River and its floodplain.

Initial coordination with agencies on the proposed U.S. 231 project began in 1999 through consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the potential for the project to affect endangered and threatened species. Coordination with other federal and state agencies and Indian tribes continued in 2000 and 2001.

An EA was completed by ALDOT and FHWA, and released to the public in May 2001 (to obtain a printed copy of the EA, see Note). The EA indicated that there would likely be floodplain and wetland impacts. The project also was announced to the public by the USACE, TVA, and the State of Alabama through Joint Public Notice 01-39 on May 25, 2001. Responses were received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Alabama Historical Commission (AHC), VanNess Feldman (Attorney for Robinsong Ecological Services), and John Howell.

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FWS stated that no significant adverse effects on fish and wildlife resources were expected if best management practices and wetland mitigation were implemented and the reasonable and prudent measures and terms and conditions as set out in the 18 February 2000 Biological Opinion (BO) were followed. AHC indicated that consultation under Section 106 was ongoing but had not yet been completed. This consultation was later completed through preparation of two MOAs, dated April 24, 2001 and September 10, 2001.

VanNess Feldman stated that mitigation of the proposed project through the Robinsong Ecological Resources Inc. wetland mitigation bank, which is in the same watershed as the U.S. 231 project, is to be preferred over the proposed mitigation in the Jackson County Mitigation Bank or Tuscaloosa County (Sipsy) banks. Because the Sipsy and Jackson County banks have been established specifically for the mitigation of highway wetland impacts and the proposed mitigation would compensate for the impacts of the highway project, the agencies prefer to use banks consistent with the mitigation agreement.

Finally, John Howell, an adjacent property owner, expressed concerns over the impacts to his property from drainage from the highway. In response, ADOT has indicated that they would design drainage to avoid affecting Howell’s property.

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A public hearing was held by ALDOT on July 12, 2001. During the environmental review process, FHWA initiated formal consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act which led to issuance of an incidental take permit for the pink mucket pearly mussel and rough pigtoe pearly mussel. Also, FHWA completed consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act which led to Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) on preservation in place and data recovery for archaeological site 1Ma10 and documentation in the Historic American Engineering Record of the C.C. Clay Bridge, one of 15 memorial toll bridges built by the Alabama Bridge Corporation in 1931.

By letter of August 6, 2001, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management issued Water Quality Certification for the project under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. FHWA and ADOT approved a final EA and FONSI on September 14, 2001. USACE determined that the FHWA EA and FONSI was adequate for Department of the Army permit purposes after evaluating additional information on the suitability of the proposed wetland mitigation. USACE issued a Statement of Findings and FONSI on 10 October 2001.

The proposed road improvement involved formal consultation under the ESA and adverse effects under Section 106 of the NHPA. In addition, there were concerns expressed about the appropriateness of the wetland mitigation. As a result of these considerations, TVA decided that preparation of an EA would allow a better understanding and documentation of the impacts of the proposal and requested of ALDOT that TVA be made a cooperating agency in their effort to prepare an EA for the project. TVA was added to the EA as a cooperating agency. Further, TVA requested of FWS that TVA be added to the incidental take permit. By letter of March 20, 2002, FWS included TVA as an action agency in its Biological Opinion. TVA has determined that the impacts of its Section 26a approvals for stream obstructions associated with US 231 improvements are adequately assessed in the FHWA EA and FONSI of September 14, 2001. TVA adopts these documents as its own, based upon independent review of the project.

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Alternatives and Impact Assessment

The EA prepared by the FHWA and ADOT assessed the impacts of two alternatives, the Preferred Alternative and the No-Build Alternative. The alternatives of postponing the action and alternate modes of travel were also considered, but were not discussed in detail. Selection of the No-Build Alternative would result in no additional physical environmental impacts, but would allow traffic and level of service to worsen over time. The Preferred Alternative would result in construction of the project as proposed. Road widening would result in fill of woodlands, farmlands, and wetlands lying within the 100-year floodplain of the Tennessee River. Thus, a small amount of wildlife habitat would be lost. The project has the potential to minimally affect water quality. The project also would cause minimal increases in flood heights and flood limits. There would be insignificant or no impacts to air quality, farmland, and human communities.

Incidental take of two endangered mussels is possible; however, with the implementation of measures to relocate mussels, the project is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the pink mucket or fine-rayed pigtoe mussels. The project would adversely affect the C.C. Clay Bridge and the Whitesburg Bridge archaeological site. However, these effects would be mitigated through recordation and archaeological data recovery.

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TVA Review

TVA independently reviewed the impacts assessed in the FHWA EA and confirmed its findings. Although the FHWA EA did not address visual impacts, TVA determined that the proposed new bridges would be visually similar to the existing bridges, except that the new concrete bridges would have a lower vertical profile. There would also be some temporary visual discord during the construction period. However, once the new bridges are completed, visual impacts would be insignificant.

Approximately 4.95 acres of wetlands would be permanently impacted, including 4.8 acres of forested wetlands and 0.15 acres of emergent wetlands. Another 0.81 acres of forested wetlands would be impacted temporarily from construction of a detour road. After construction, the detour road would be removed, the site returned to existing contours, and the wetland area replanted with bottomland hardwoods. As mitigation for the wetland filling, ADOT will purchase a corresponding number of wetland credits (4.95) from the Jackson County Mitigation Bank. This bank is located within the same watershed. Further, the resources being created in the Jackson County bank are the same types of resources being impacted in the U.S. 231 project-bottomland hardwoods and emergent wetlands. Each credit purchased in the mitigation bank is equivalent to 2.5 wetland acres, thereby ensuring the creation of more than 12 acres of bottomland hardwood wetland as mitigation for the project.

TVA also evaluated the project for compliance with Executive Order 11988 on Floodplain Management. Some fill material would be placed in the 100-year floodplain. TVA has determined that there is no practicable alternative to routing the highway across the Tennessee River at this location because this project involves the expansion of an existing highway and it would be costly to move the highway to a new location. Madison and Morgan Counties are participants in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). All activities will adhere to the minimum standards of the NFIP and comply with local floodplain management regulations.

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TVA is aware of additional planned projects in the Madison and Morgan County areas that would impact similar aquatic or terrestrial resources. Among these in the immediate vicinity are the proposed Huntsville Southern Bypass and the Martin Road Improvement project, which would impact forested and emergent wetlands within the Huntsville Spring Branch watershed. Mitigation required through Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and state permitting processes would reduce the cumulative impacts on wetlands in this area to insignificant levels. TVA believes that with the incorporation of standard Section 26a approval conditions and the commitments contained in the FHWA EA, the subject construction of US 231, when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions will not have a significant impact on the wetland functions and values in the Tennessee Valley region. 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 regulatory requirement that there be “no net loss” of wetland functions and values.

As indicated in the EA, two federally listed mussel species are found at the bridge site. The FWS prepared the February 18, 2000, Biological Opinion and the November 1, 2000 amendment prescribing reasonable and prudent measures to minimize the incidental take. These incidental take measures will be included as conditions in TVA’s Section 26a permit. FWS, by letter of March 20, 2002, included TVA in the Biological Opinion as a federal action agency. Inclusion of these commitments in the Section 26a permit would allow TVA to conclude that the project, as modified, would not adversely affect endangered or threatened species. The list of USFWS required measures is presented in the Commitments Section.

TVA was not a signatory of the two MOAs prepared under Section 106 of the NHPA. FHWA acted as the lead Federal agency on behalf of TVA and other federal agencies with actions relating to the same project. TVA has reviewed the mitigation measures identified in the MOAs and concurs that the two MOAs adequately take into account the impacts of TVA’s undertaking on the two historic properties.

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Conclusion and Findings

TVA has critically and independently reviewed the FHWA EA and determined that the scope, alternatives considered, and content of the EA is adequate and that the impacts on the environment have been adequately addressed. TVA has decided to adopt the FHWA EA. The FHWA EA and FONSI is attached and incorporated by reference.

Based on the EA, we conclude that the Section 26a approvals for the bridge replacements and fills at the U.S. 231 Bridge across the Tennessee River would not be a major Federal action significantly affecting the environment. Accordingly, an environmental impact statement is not required..

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

Date: May 13, 2002

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Commitments

U.S. 231 bridges across Tennessee River
Section 26a approval for wetland fill and bridges associated with six-lane construction of U.S. 231, Tennessee River mile 333.3, Madison and Morgan Counties, Alabama

  1. Water quality impacts will be minimized by adhering to standard Section 26a conditions 5a (ALDOT agrees to design/construct instream piers in such a manner as to discourage river scouring or sediment deposition) and 6a to 6i (Best Management Practices).
  2. All project activities will adhere to the minimum standards of the National Flood Insurance Program and comply with Madison County and Morgan County floodplain management regulations. In accordance with these minimum standards, the applicant will ensure that development will not significantly increase 100-year flood elevations, and will not involve placement of fill or other flow obstructions in the floodway portion of the floodplain unless compensatory adjustments are also included.
  3. ALDOT will meet all conditions and limitations specified in the Alabama Department of Environmental Management Section 401 Water Quality Certification of August 6, 2001.
  4. Mitigation Credits will be purchased from the Jackson County Wetland Mitigation Bank.
  5. Concrete and steel supports from the old bridges may be dropped in the river, but as much material as possible must be removed from the river bed, allowing mussels to re-colonize the area in the future.
  6. Surveys will be performed within potential mussel habitat for a distance of 150 meters downstream from the span. All mussels collected will be placed within burlap bags and kept in a suitable location until relocation efforts can be performed. These mussels must be relocated within a maximum of ten days.
  7. All mussels found in these areas will be collected and relocated to an area of suitable habitat.
  8. Mussel relocation efforts will be conducted only by divers qualified and experienced with conducting surveys for endangered mussels and identifying the Tennessee River mussel fauna.
  9. Mussel survey efforts specified in commitment 6 above will continue until the divers are confident all of the mussels have been collected.
  10. All mussels collected for relocation will be identified and counted at each site. Federally listed mussels should not remain out of the water for more than one hour. All Federally listed mussels collected will be individually tagged, weighed, measured and aged during relocation. After one growing year the transplanted listed mussels will be retrieved and re-measured to evaluate the success of this method of protecting mussels. All data concerning each relocation effort, including: dates, measurements, locations, and depths (before and after), numbers, etc. will be provided to the FWS and TVA within 90 days following its conclusion. This information, along with maps showing the work and relocation areas, will be provided to FWS and TVA for each work site
  11. All mussels will be hand placed within relocation sites in a suitable habitat and in a natural position. Extreme precautions should be taken to ensure each mussel is firmly embedded and stabilized in the substrate.
  12. Any dead federally listed mussels or shell material of these mussels observed during relocation efforts will be retained and made available for examination by the FWS and TVA. FHWA, ALDOT, or the chief contracted scientist (malacologist) will notify the FWS, Daphne Field Office, and TVA each time any dead federally listed mussel is retained and the FWS will determine where the specimen will be archived. All dead individuals and shells of federally listed mussels will be examined by FWS and the applicant’s contracted malacologist to determine if such specimens will be considered as part of the incidental take.
  13. A report will be prepared following the completion of all mussel relocation work describing efforts, problems and solutions, results, and conclusions. This report will be provided to the Service’s Daphne Field Office within 90 days after the completion of all mussel relocation efforts.
  14. ALDOT will comply with the stipulations in the Memorandum of Agreement Between the Federal Highway Administration and the Alabama State Historic Preservation Officer Pursuant to 36 CFR 800.5(e)(4) Regarding Bridge Replacement on US 231 Over Tennessee River, Project BRF-310(17), Madison and Morgan Counties, dated April 27, 2001 (regarding the Warren thru-truss bridge) and the Memorandum of Agreement Between the Federal Highway Administration and the Alabama State Historic Preservation Officer Submitted to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Pursuant to 36 CFR 800.5(e)(4) on Proposed US 231 Bridge Replacement Over the Tennessee River at Whitesburg, Madison/Morgan Counties, Alabama, Alabama Department of Transportation Project BRF-310(17), Alabama Historical Commission Tracking Number 000-0105, dated September 12, 2001 (regarding archaeological site 1Ma10).

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Note: To obtain a printed copy of the FWHA U.S. 231 Bridges 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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