Mar 16, 2008

Sears Island: Raising the bar for MDOT

Will her wetlands and eelgrass, her ferns and forests, her historic and prehistoric artifacts, her beaches and sandbars be protected from industrial development?

In the 1990s, the answer was YES

But if Maine Department of Transportation has its way this time: NO. (Click pic for larger image)

MDOT proposes divvying up Sears Island, taking a third for a future industrial port, leaving the other two thirds natural, (though allowing ENGOs to build an educational center in that natural area.)

But before the deal becomes official, Maine DOT has to satisfy the federal government that it has obeyed a certain federal law: 49 USC § 303 Policy on lands, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites Because under the regulations of this 4(f) law, the Federal Highway Administration can not approve plans for future development of a port on a public land island until Maine DOT:

(1) identifies the wildlife, historic and recreational resources that would be affected directly or indirectly;
(2) Shows there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land from the property; and
(3) Demonstrates how the proposed action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property and its resources resulting from such use.

So before Maine Dept of Transportation can move ahead with any plans, it needs to submit a report to the federal government showing:

(1) what wildlife, historic and recreational assets exist in, on and adjacent to their third of the island. Lots of info pertaining to WILDLIFE is available from the 1990s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) made for proposed port on the island in the 1990s. Not so for HISTORIC and RECREATIONAL assets. Maine DOT will have to hire a consultant to gather information on those two assets.

(2) what wildlife, historic and recreational assets the port would destroy or damage that exist in, on and adjacent to their third of the island. Again the 1990s EIS and other studies and reviews carried out by federal and state agencies in the 1990s will describe much of these assets and the likely adverse impacts of port development on Sears Island.

(3) What alternatives there are that would allow similar kind of development, but off of the island. Mack Point? Orrington, Bangor? Portland? Halifax?

So lets look at some details of what ought to be in Maine DOT's DRAFT version of their Section 4(f) report to the FHWA.

1. Description of Project
Describe the proposed project, including the purpose and need for the project.

2. A brief introduction that identifies:
a. The basic requirements of Section 4(f).
b. The Section 4(f) resource(s) affected.
c. The alternatives under consideration that would affect the Section 4(f) resource(s).

3. Description of each Section 4(f) resource:

a. A detailed map or drawing of sufficient scale to identify the relationship of the alternatives to the Section 4(f) property.
b. Size (acres or square feet) and location (maps, sketches, etc.) of the affected Section 4(f) property.
c.Type of property (recreation, historic, wildlife.) and ownership (public, private etc.).
d. Function of or available activities on the property (swimming, golfing, baseball, wildlife habitats.).
e. Description and location of all existing and planned facilities (tennis courts, baseball diamonds, etc.).
f. Access (pedestrian, vehicular) and usage (approximate number of users/visitors, etc.).
g. Relationship to other similarly used lands in the vicinity.
h. Relationship to ecologically important wildlife areas adjacent to the prooerty.
i. Applicable clauses affecting the ownership, such as lease, easement, covenants, restrictions, or conditions, including forfeiture.
j Unusual characteristics (flooding problems, terrain conditions, high value viewshed, rare or significant wildlife habitat or other features) that reduce or enhance the value of all or part of the property.

4. Environmental impacts during construction for each alternative on each Section 4(f) property (quantify where possible):

a. Acquisition of land (acres or square feet) and facilities (include map).
b. Access.
c. Aesthetics.
d. Air Quality.
e. Noise.
f. Water.
g. Wildlife/Fisheries
h. Land use in the vicinity.

5. Environmental impacts during operation for each alternative on each Section 4(f) property:

a. Acquisition of land (acres or square feet), if different from construction impact, and facilities (include map).
b. Access.
c. Aesthetics.
d. Air Quality.
e. Noise.
f. Water.
g. Wildlife/Fisheries
h. Land use in the vicinity. Include impacts of growth induced by project.

6. Avoidance alternatives and their impacts.

Identify and evaluate location and design alternatives that would avoid harm to the Section 4(f) property and its surrounds.

Generally, this would include alternatives to either side of the property. Where an alternative would use land from more than one Section 4(f) property, the analysis needs to evaluate alternatives which avoid each and all properties (23 CFR 771.135(i)).

The design alternatives should be in the immediate area of the property and consider minor alignment shifts, a reduced facility, retaining structures, etc., individually or in combination, as appropriate.

Detailed discussions of alternatives in an EIS or EA need not be repeated in the Section 4(f) portion of the document, but should be referenced and summarized.

However, when alternatives (avoiding Section 4(f) resources) have been eliminated from detailed study, the discussion should also explain whether these alternative are feasible and prudent and, if not, the reasons why. (T 6640.8A, p. 45.)

7. Mitigation measures, commitments, and monitoring procedures to minimize harm. Discuss all possible measures which are available to minimize the impacts of the proposed action on the Section 4(f) property(ies). Detailed discussions of mitigation measures in the EIS or EA may be referenced and appropriately summarized, rather than repeated. (T 6640.8A, p. 46.)

8. Coordination with other agencies The coordination should include a discussion of avoidance alternatives, impacts, and measures to minimize harm:

a. State Historic Preservation Officer/State Wildlife/Marine/Environmental Commissioners.
b. Local officials with jurisdiction.
c. Historic societies, conservation and environmental groups, museums, academic institutions.
d. Historic consultant.
e. Archaeological consultant.
f. Wildlife Consultant.
g. Fisheries.
h. Wetlands Consultant
i. Recreation Consultant.
j. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP).
k. Indian Tribes


Let's make make sure they do it, and do it right!

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