30 October 2012

Considering Corps Decision Regarding the Platte Confluence

A recent meeting with staff of the Corps of Engineers provided details regarding the decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to focus resources from the Platte River confluence to other recovery sites along the Missouri River.

The Corps had been considering the purchase of a 399-acre land tract north of the Platte River, at the confluence with the Missouri River.

Particular reasons given by the agency to instead focus their limited resources elsewhere along the river, were:

1) Soil and groundwater contamination resulting from industrial activities associated with the PCS Nitrogen facility. A map graphic was provided which indicates several sites which exceed the allowable level of ammonia, notably on the upland along La Platte Road. Other spots in the immediate vicinity have lesser amounts, but with the groundwater flow towards the south and east, there is the potential for contamination downstream.

Yellow markers on the map indicate sites where the ammonia levels exceed an allowable limit.

Additional details were provided, which indicate, based upon a table of metal detected in groundwater at the site landfill, as indicated by the "Brownfield Phase II ESA Report" for the PCS Nitrogen facility. Metals listed as exceeding the Nebraska "VCP standard" were arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead and selenium.

Corps officials indicated they would not want to purchase a tract of land for which they may become legally liable for cleanup of site contamination, as repeatedly indicated by Corps staff, based upon their detailed evaluations.

Mentioned during the meeting was that the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality recently issued a legal mandate for PCS Nitrogen to continue to monitor their property for contaminates for another ten-year period.

It was obvious, based upon the current situation as presented and agency decisions, that the contaminant problem is not going away.

There are no known efforts underway to remediate the situation.

2) A relict landfill comprising seven acres, occurs directly north of the tract which the Corps had been considered, and on the west edge of the area commonly known as the La Platte Bottoms.

This may also be a possible source of contamination.

The landfill area is indicated in the center of the map area. The white hatched area was the parcel the Corps had considered purchasing.

3) A drainage ditch from the PCS Nitrogen facility just east of La Platte runs eastward through the bottoms, and may also have contamination issues, according to a Corps official.

4) There are site improvement limitations at this site due to its proximity to the Offutt Airbase runway. There would be no opportunity to create shallow water habitat, because of the threat of bird gathering in the vicinity of planes routes. Any habitat that would attract flocks of waterfowl or waterbirds, might endanger airplane flights.

The limited extent of habitat recovery funds available to the Corps can be better spent at other sites, Corps staff said. There are numerous examples of other efforts to create habitat features along the river, including shallow water habitat, emergent sandbars, and other riverine features to promote the vitality of fish and wildlife. None of these management activities could occur at the parcel considered at the Platte confluence.

The proximity to the airbase has also imposed limitations on management options at the St. Mary's Island tract, previously purchased and on the Iowa side of the Missouri River. This site is a dryland, floodplain habitat, as a result.

An ancillary item discussed Friday morning was an effort to setback the levee along the north side of the Platte.

Any effort to move the levee northward from its current placement near the Platte River, would require Corp approval, and a NEPA review, according to a Corps official through a "408 approval."

Two items which would be considered in this review would be soil and groundwater contamination, as well as how the reconfiguration could influence the navigation channel of the Missouri, which the Corps is required to maintain by legal mandate.

It was apparent during the morning's discussion, that the Corps staff recognize the historic and cultural significance associated with the confluence. During the meeting, details were given to convey the bird history of the locale, to emphasize this topic. Also mentioned was the potential threat for industrial development that would destroy the bottoms, based upon perspectives presented in the Omaha and Bellevue media.

The Corps of Engineers has an ongoing responsibility to restore historic habitats and ensure the conservation of many Missouri River spaces. They would welcome the opportunity to be involved with other interested groups or agencies focused upon retaining a green-space situation at the Platte River confluence, according to comments from Corps staff.

The meeting was October 26th, downtown on the upper floors of the headquarters of the Omaha District office for the federal agency. Eight Corps staff were present. The meeting occurred because of a personal request for a meeting rather than a conference call.

Towards the end of the mid-morning meeting, it became obvious that there was a further need for discussions about the Platte confluence area, its status and future potential. One or another comment was that interested parties need to get together to share pertinent details, discuss particular issues, and — if this locale is to get the conservation is most assuredly deserves based upon many important facets — determine how to move this goal forward.

Conservation of the Platte Confluence involves many interested groups, yet some of the primary interests might learn more. There can be additional details presented.

The situation revolves about a property-owner, and the situation which now occurs.

A phone call to a Papio-Missouri NRD official was made in this regard Friday afternoon. It was another noteworthy conversation, with an emphasis that the NRD strive to have a meeting that would result in common interests being upon the same page.

Any meeting should include the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and several other entities with an expressed interest in this significant place along two rivers.

Lands at the Platte River confluence and the adjacent La Platte Bottoms are one of the most important sites along the Missouri River. In considering its future, this could be an essential aspect for its consideration.

The current perspectives are not consistent, though there are opportunities to alter the situation where-upon there could be a workable effort to conserve what is so obviously important at the Platte River confluence.