21 June 2010

Considering Issues - Highway Construction at La Platte Bottoms

The following two emails were sent June 21, 2010, with copies also sent to the local press and bird discussion group. Images shown are from the various government documents associated with the Highway 34 - Bellevue Bridge project, developed by the Iowa Department of Transportation and Nebraska Department of Roads.

Authorization of Placing Fill in Wetlands

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for authorizing the filling of wetlands. According to a ACE officials, a permit was recently issued that provides authorization for impacting 4.97 acres. Yet according to this document online there will be more acres filled than that allowed by this particular permit. This discrepancy was the reason that the following email was sent to an ACE official.

"Since the attached document - dated April 2009 and issued by the Iowa Department of Transportation - indicates that there will be more than 4.87 acres of wetlands impacted by the Highway 34 Bridge and roadway, when will the Nebraska Department of Roads or Iowa Department of Transportation be applying for a permit to allow them to fill the additional acreage?

"According to the 404 regulations, as I understand them, only those acres for which a permit is issued could be filled. As the project proponents only have authorization for 4.87 acres through a completed permit process, yet something like 15 acres in Nebraska will be filled as the document indicates, the project cannot proceed as they are not authorized to fill more than 4.87 acres of wetlands.

"If any further fill would be needed, they would need to get a permit, and I request that the entity responsible for the project go through the entire application process for any fill required for the additional acreage. When this occurs, I would specifically ask that a public meeting be held in order that the people impacted by the destruction of wetlands at the site, be given an opportunity to voice their opinions."

The following graphic indicates the "impacted wetlands" as defined in 2007.

This is a graphic of the impacted wetlands as indicated in July 2009. Note the obvious increase in the extent of the designated wetlands to be filled.

It is also obvious that additional wetland acres will be affected, though they may not be directly filled, or impacted in government lingo. Their will be little value, if any for the bits of wetland between the constructed bridge ramps, and as any birds at these places could be readily hit by passing vehicles, there should not be any wetland habitat kept at these spots.

Railroad Track at Mitigation Site

This is a copy of an email sent to personnel at the Nebraska Department of Roads.

"I am writing to ask how a wetland mitigation site could be selected that is bounded on its entire north side by a railroad right-of-way, that is regularly and consistently used?

"Birds make essential use of any wetlands and having the ongoing disturbance of passing trains would have a dramatic impact on the value of the tract as an undisturbed place for migratory species including birds and other wildlife.

"Having train traffic would also make the place less than appealing for anyone that might want to come to the sight to observe visiting birds. The noise would make it very difficult if not impossible to listen for the calls or songs of birds which might be present. Just ask bird watchers at the Fontenelle Forest bottoms what they think of the train traffic.

"It seems obvious, from a birder's perspective, that this is not a suitable mitigation site, based on its potential value for wild birds.

Did the Fish and Wildlife Service provide any input into the selection of this mitigation site? It would seem that having a major railroad track present would have been an indication to select some more suitable site.

"The Nebraska Department of Roads needs to realize their extent of their mistake in selecting this site, and not move ahead with any effort to develop a mitigation site at Oreapolis. When will your agency deal with this error?"

The following is a figure which indicates the site of the proposed wetland mitigation.
Note the RR tracks on the north side, with a passing train along the entire stretch of the proposed mitigation site. Also note that the eastern portion of the area does not have vehicular access, which a primary value for the La Platte Bottoms, where people with mobility challenges can readily park along the road and watch the bird action in the marsh. The vehicular access at Oreapolis is limited to the western portion, and it is not known whether or not this is even a public access road.