25 June 2010

Discussion Points - Highway 34 and Bellevue Bridge

While considering what is going to happen at the La Platte Bottoms because of an expansion of U.S. Highway 34 and an addition of a new bridge south of Bellevue, the following items came to mind, so it seemed appropriate to record and share them with the very few forward-thinking or concerned people that may actually care about what happens at this place. We are a minority, but we still do strive to protect a place for our feathered friends, as they have no advocate, and government agencies will ignore those without a voice. Many others are mute, and uncaring about what will be foisted upon a place so important to wetland bird-life at this most-important place in the Missouri River valley.

Highway Bridge

Was the alternative of replacing the bridges at Bellevue and Plattsmouth considered as a project alternative? Why is a completely new highway required? Two bridges can be built at a much lesser cost than a completely new highway of many miles.

Cultural Impact

The Platte River received it name more than 27 decades ago, when French explorers floated past the site while on a journey which included a traverse down the Missouri River. The moniker, is possibly the first modern-era name ever mentioned in recognizing the geography of the current state of Nebraska. This cultural significance was not found in any manner in the final EIS, as prepared by staff - and other ancillary agencies - of the two transportation state agencies which want to build a bridge less than a half-mile away from this point of such a dramatic importance.

Rather than having something which resembles the original condition, though only slightly, this road project would make the predominant feature a bridge and highway, with vehicular noise, its obstructions across the northern horizon and no consideration of how the preeminent feature could give attention to history instead of development. The sound of the river's flow should be what would be heard at this place, rather than the endless drone of semis, truck and cars.

The Nebraska Historical Society didn't mention this aspect, only considering cultural sites where native people may have been present for a sufficient time for relicts to occur.

Apparently the Back to the River organization is concerned with the conservation of the land where the Platte River empties into the Missouri. BTTR seems to not be currently involved with any considerations at this locality, based upon current communications of inquiry.

Wetland Impacts

The Army Corps of Engineer permit for this project - recently issued - addresses an impact of only 4.97 acres - based upon their legal definitions, so the Nebraska Department of Roads considers that this is the entire amount of wetland for which they need to mitigate. Yet, an Iowa Department of Transportation document specifically denotes that more than 16 acres will be filled, based upon a detailed map available online and ancillary documentation.

This map does not even indicate additional wetlands present in 2010, when water conditions are optimal - for birds and related wetland features.

The Corps is using the lowest possible value, and this is what mitigation decisions were being based upon, in a manner ignorant of an apparent reality when unmoving levels of water provide a great haven for birds, among aquatic vegetation, and in an enduring manner. It seems that defined law supersedes reality.

When there is standing water, wetland vegetation and water dependent birds present, the place is a wetland, yet the actual extent of the marsh at the La Platte Bottoms is being minimized in comparison to the place being appreciated and enjoyed by birds and birders during the summer of 2010.

Only direct impacts have been considered. Yet, what is the effect on adjacent wetland habitat of placing a multi-lane highway directly through a larger extent of wetland. Enclosing a bit of wetland by a multi-lane highway or access road will certainly diminish the value of a tiny bit of wetland squeezed between the two. But since the bit of land is not directly filled - or "impacted" in the government lingo - this is not even considered.

If the project proponents do not have a permit for any and all wetland filling, their project cannot proceed.

Impacts to the Saint Mary's Bend Wildlife Area

The proposed alignment from Interstate-29 in Iowa will cut through the southern portion of the St. Mary's Island mitigation site. This tract was specifically bought and established in order to protect fish and wildlife. A highway is not in any appropriate for a tract which was supposed to be a haven for wildlife.

Any easement or property addition will not mitigate for the impact of having a highway bisecting the tract. The value of this site for wildlife will be dramatically reduced once a highway becomes the prominent feature of the site.

Why can't the alignment go north of the Iske Park Residential Area, with more highway placed upon the Saint Mary's Bend Mitigation Site. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already sanctioned a roadway through the place, so why not use this place of former cropland as the highway right-of-way, instead of imposing the thing upon a relict wetland.

This possibility was also not considered by any of the project developers.

Migratory Birds

Wetlands at the La Platte Bottoms have been used repeatedly by the Least Tern, a threatened species, yet this particular bird foraging use at the site was not mentioned in any manner by the environmental impact statement, though its potential nesting along the Platte was considered.

The EIS did not recognize how more than 130 species of birds occur and have used the project site during the past 25 years, and undoubtedly many previous years.

The economic value of the site for the myriad of migratory birds - with an obvious valuation exceeding $2 million - was not considered when the environmental review was done.

The appreciation and importance of the La Platte Bottoms to birders of the region was not considered in any manner by the draft, or final EIS. This facet should have been among the items addressed, yet has not been.

Not even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials considered this. Apparently they were ignorant of these facts - which would seemingly be their responsibility as "professional biologists" to be aware of - yet there is no mention in the final EIS of the bird species diversity and how its occurrence will be altered by having a highway through their habitat.

Information on bird occurrence is readily available, based on contributions by a variety of people whom have posted comments on the NEBirds forum.

One of the best features of the current La Platte Bottoms setting, is that anyone can enjoy the birds. You could walk there from La Platte. Most people do drive there, and are able to see, or hear - without any background noise, from a passing train, for example - the species spending time in the marsh. And this can be done from the current roadway, without having to make a hike. This makes the setting especially appropriate for everyone, including someone who may have limited mobility, yet can easily watch from their vehicle, for as long as they may want to appreciate the birds, the dragonflies or any of the other features of nature at this unique place, which can never been replaced.

Oreapolis Mitigation Site

The northern edge of the proposed mitigation site is bordered along its entire northern extent by a dual-track railroad right-of-way. The noise and disturbance are negative impacts which have not been considered in any manner in documents concerning the mitigation site.

There is no indication that there will be public access to the tract, as there is a roadway only on the western extent of the site, and it has not be mentioned in any project documents, whether this is a public right-of-way.

Without any vehicular access, the wildlife observation values of the tract for people with mobility challenges, could not drive up to the place, and watch the birds and other bits of nature from their vehicles. They can now do this at the La Platte Bottoms.


Officials of the state agencies responsible for this project have said that some of the issues mentioned above were not considered because "no one told us" during the public hearings or expressed these comments in any manner while project planning was underway.

This is not a valid reason for these items not having been considered. It is the responsibility of agency staff - including people working for the Iowa Department of Transportation, Nebraska Department of Roads, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - to consider any and all pertinent details.

Yet, based upon a cursory review of available documentation, this did not occur. Each of the above mentioned items are not directly and specifically included among the topics within the many pages of government documents which supposedly were prepared in a manner meant to review and consider the various factors involved with building a highway south of Bellevue.

Only when the above items are recognized, considered, and addressed, should this project move forward! The pending construction of a mega-highway is now being looked upon by people who care as a boondoggle designed in a careless manner without any concern for important natural values.