US Army Corps of Engineers
Nashville District

Public Notices

Public Notice No. 19-31; File No. LRN-2019-00480

Published Aug. 20, 2019
Expiration date: 9/21/2019

Public Notice No. 19-31
Nashville District
Application No.  LRN-2019-00480
Date: August 21, 2019; Expires: September 21, 2019
Please address comments to:  Nashville District Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Division,
3701 Bell Road, Nashville, Tennessee 37214

JOINT PUBLIC NOTICE
U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS
AND
TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY

SUBJECT:  Proposed structures and discharge of fill material into waters of the United States to facilitate the Interstate 75 at Interstate 24 Interchange Modification; Cities of Chattanooga and East Ridge, Hamilton County, Tennessee.  TDOT Project # 33005-1185-44.  TDOT PIN 114174.00

TO ALL CONCERNED:  The application described below has been submitted for a Department of the Army (DA) Permit pursuant to Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) for the discharge of fill material into waters of the United States (U.S.).  Before a permit can be issued, certification must be provided by the State of Tennessee, pursuant to Section 401(a)(1) of the CWA, that applicable water quality standards will not be violated; the applicant has applied for the required certification.  The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is reviewing the application per Section 26a of the TVA Act.

APPLICANT:  Tennessee Department of Transportation 
                       7512 Volkswagen Drive
                       Chattanooga, Tennessee 37416

LOCATION:  The proposed project limits extend along Interstate 75 (I-75) / Interstate-24 (I-24) from just west of Spring Creek Road, to just west of the I-75 bridge over the CSX Railroad, and south along I-75 to the Tennessee-Georgia state line, located within the cities of Chattanooga and East Ridge, Hamilton County, Tennessee.  Center coordinates of the project are approximately 35.0018°, -85.2128°.  Waters of the U.S. proposed for structures or discharge of fill material include South Chickamauga Creek, Spring Creek, and eight unnamed wetlands.  The project is located within the Middle Tennessee - Chickamauga Watershed (HUC-8: 06020001).

PROJECT DESCRIPTION:  The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) proposes to modify and reconstruct the existing I-75/I-24 interchange by adding an additional lane in all directions throughout the project limits.  The I-24/I-75 ramps will be widened to three lanes and the radii increased to allow for 50 miles per hour (mph) design speed.  I-75 will be realigned through the project to be the primary travel flow and thus at grade throughout the project. The I-24 ramps are to be reconfigured to go over I-75.  The project also modifies the traffic circulation patterns of the existing Welcome Center by reconfiguring the entrance and exit to
eliminate the weaving condition along northbound I-75.  The modification would realign the ramp to the west of the existing Welcome Center and merge with I-75 north of the existing Welcome Center.  Traffic along the proposed ramp traveling northbound I-75 will use a ramp parallel to the existing northbound ramp and vehicles traveling to I-24 westbound will diverge onto the I-24 flyover ramp.  The estimated timeline for completing this project is approximately three years.

In order to facilitate the project, TDOT proposes structural bridge improvements including the widening of the I-75 bridge over South Chickamauga Creek and the removal and replacement of the I-75 bridges over Spring Creek.  Permanent discharge of fill material is proposed within South Chickamauga Creek and eight (8) unnamed wetlands.  A total of 0.082 acre of South Chickamauga Creek and 9.38 acres of wetlands would be permanently impacted by the proposed discharge of fill material related to the roadway improvements.  The project scope also includes required utility line relocations and all associated drainage improvements.  An estimated total of up to 0.142 acre of South Chickamauga Creek and Spring Creek would be temporarily impacted during construction.  A total of 2.23 acre of wetland would be temporarily impacted, then restored, during construction.  Additionally, the proposal includes the discharge of temporary fill material associated with Erosion Prevention and Sediment Control (EPSC).  A complete set of project drawings for this public notice is located at: https://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/Media/Public-Notices/

PURPOSE AND NEED:  According to the permit application, continued growth in the area and traffic volume increases along the I-24 and I-75 corridors have resulted in deficient traffic operations due to increased congestion and the associated safety issues accompanying higher traffic volumes.  Substandard ramp geometry and volume increases have caused safety issues.

The modifications are needed to provide a safer facility for roadway users by reducing high crash rates and truck rollovers throughout the I-24/I-75 interchange area.  The traffic circulation patterns of the existing Welcome Center also create substandard weaving conditions, causing safety issues along NB I-75.  The proposed project would improve substandard ramp geometry, decrease interstate congestion, improve traffic operations, and improve safety at the interchange and Welcome Center.

AVOIDANCE AND MINIMIZATION OF IMPACTS TO WATERS OF THE U.S.:  According to the applicant, all measures of avoidance of wetland and stream impacts have been maximized in this proposed project.  In 2012, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved and Interchange Access Request (IAR) for I-75 at I-24.  The IAR served as the basis for an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  During the IAR process, seven alternatives were presented for the proposed interstate modifications.  Of the seven alternatives analyzed, the preferred alternative provides for the smallest environmental footprint.  To further minimize impacts to waters of the U.S., the preferred alternative was revised to reduce permanent wetland impacts from the originally proposed 12.18 acres to the currently proposed 9.38 acres.

To minimize impacts to stream resources and aquatic species passage, bridges are proposed over South Chickamauga Creek and Spring Creek, rather than culverts or other more impactful structures.  Steeper roadway side slopes of 2:1 are proposed throughout the project, and retaining walls are proposed where feasible to minimize impacts to aquatic resources.  A design reconfiguration at the Welcome Center has reduced wetland impacts by 6.65 acres from the original concept.  At Spring Creek, the existing bridge, with supporting piers in the creek will be removed.  The applicant has revised the replacement bridge designs at this location to include single span bridges, with no supporting piers into Spring Creek; therefore reducing impacts as compared to current conditions.  The design for bridge widening over South Chickamauga Creek was modified to minimize wetland impacts as compared to other concepts.  Wetland impacts have been reduced by
minimizing permanent impacts, and providing for temporary impacts where feasible.  A total of 2.23 acres of wetland impacts will be temporary, rather than permanent.

Within areas of temporary wetland impact, the applicant proposes to restore the wetlands by removing and stockpiling the natural topsoil prior to construction, restoring natural contours and spreading native topsoil to pre-construction elevations at the end of construction, seeding with native riparian seed mix, planting of native trees, and installation of permanent signage to protect these restored areas.

To minimize erosion and avoid sediment release into waters of U.S., only 50 acres of land disturbance are proposed at a time and all in-water construction activities would be completed in the dry and separated from flowing water by using temporary cofferdams, cribs, or stream diversion as appropriate.  Standard Best Management Practices are proposed to reduce erosion and sedimentation.  High visibility fencing would be installed during construction to ensure that only
authorized impacts to waters of the U.S. occur.

South Chickamauga Creek and Spring Creek are listed as navigable waters of the U.S., which the Nashville District has regulatory jurisdiction under the authority of the Rivers and Harbors Act and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.  Except during short period of time during beam removal and beam erection, the applicant will ensure that the public will have access to navigation along both streams during the construction process.  During the beam removal process, navigation will be
intermittently halted for short periods of time as the beams are being lifted for removal.  Once the beams are safely removed, navigation through the construction zone will be allowed.  Likewise, during the beam erection process, navigation will be temporarily halted in order for the beams to be safely lifted and set in place.  Once beams are secured in place, navigation will resume.  Ongoing construction will reduce the navigable channel widths, but will not prohibit navigation
through the construction zones.  As a measure of safety, warning signs advising of the reduced channel width and urging caution when passing through the construction zone will be installed along the banks.

COMPENSATORY MITIGATION:  To compensate for unavoidable permanent impacts to 9.38 acres of wetlands, and to satisfy federal and state mitigation requirements, the applicant proposes to purchase 28.40 wetland mitigation credits from the Sequatchie Valley Wetland Mitigation Bank, located in Marion County, Tennessee.  The proposed wetland impacts are within the primary service area of this mitigation bank.

PUBLIC INTEREST REVIEW/CUMULATIVE EFFECTS:  The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impacts including               cumulative impacts of the activity on the public interest. That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. The benefit, which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the work, must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. All factors, which may be relevant to the work, will be considered including the cumulative effects thereof; among those are conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, cultural values, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shore erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food and fiber production, mineral needs, considerations of property ownership, and, in general, the needs and welfare of the people. In addition, the evaluation of the impact of the activity on the public interest will include application of the guidelines promulgated by the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, under authority of Section 404(b)(1) of the CWA(40 CFR Part 230).

SOLICITATION OF COMMENTS:  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is soliciting comments from the public; federal, state, and local agencies and officials; Indian Tribes; and other interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of the proposed road improvement and widening project.  Any comments received will be considered by the USACE to determine whether to issue, modify, condition, or deny a permit for this proposal.  To make this decision, comments are used to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and the other public interest factors listed above.  Comments are used in the preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) and/or an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to NEPA.  Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity.  An EA will be prepared by this office prior to a final decision concerning issuance or denial of the requested DA Permit.

HISTORIC AND CULTURAL RESOURCES:  TDOT, acting on behalf of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), has been identified as the lead agency for complying with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.  In June 2014, a Phase I Archaeological Assessment of the proposed improvements to the I-75 at I-24 interchange was prepared.  No archaeological sites were recorded as a result of the investigation.  No further archaeological investigations were recommended.  In
correspondence from the Tennessee - State Historic Preservation Office (TN-SHPO), dated May 29, 2014, they stated that "based on the information provided, we find that the project area contains no archaeological resources eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.”  Following recent coordination with the TDOT Archaeology Section, TDOT determined that “Based on the conceptual layout dated July 9, 2018, I find that our previous archaeological survey and SHPO
letter dated May 29, 2014 remain valid. The project area contains no archaeological resources eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.”

In 2014, a Historical and Architectural Survey was prepared for the project.  After surveying the area of potential effect for the project, historians identified the Anna B. Lacey School and Belvoir Historic District as being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).  However, the report indicated that the proposed project alternatives would have No Adverse Effect on either the property or district.  TN-SHPO correspondence received on October 23, 2014 stated, “based on the information provided, we find that the project area contains two cultural resources eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places: Anna B. Lacey School and Belvoir Historic District.  We further find that the project as currently proposed will not adversely affect these resources. Unless project plans change, this office has no objection to the implementation of this project.”  Following recent coordination with the TDOT Historic Preservation Section dated July 24, 2018, TDOT determined that "Based on the information provided, the TN-SHPO letter from October 23, 2014 remains valid for historic/architectural resources."

The applicant requested Native American consultation via letter to ten federally recognized tribes on March 11, 2014.  The United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma replied to the coordination request on March 12, 2014.  The Tribe stated that representatives had reviewed the project and had no comments or objections at this time.  In the July 25, 2018 correspondence from the TDOT Archaeology Section, TDOT determined that "the March 11, 2014 documentation regarding consultation with federally recognized Native American tribes remains valid."

USACE invites responses to this public notice from Native American Tribes or tribal governments; federal, state, and local agencies; historical and archeological societies; and other parties likely to have knowledge of or concerns regarding historic properties and sites of religious and cultural significance at or near the project area.  Any substantive comments from this public notice will be provided to TDOT, for consideration of potential effects to historic and cultural resources for Section 106 compliance.  If TDOT determines that consultation is required, TDOT would consult with the Tennessee Historic Commission (SHPO) and Native American Tribes in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, as appropriate.  TDOT is required to submit all applicable Section 106 documentation to USACE prior to final permit decision.

ENDANGERED/THREATENED SPECIES REVIEW:  TDOT, acting on behalf of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), has been identified as the lead agency for conducting environmental review under Section 7 of the ESA.  TDOT completed an Endangered Species Act (ESA) records review, by searching the TDEC Division of Natural Areas, Endangered Species Database, on multiple dates, most recently June 12, 2018.  Additionally, the applicant conducted ESA field reviews on multiple dates.  Accordingly, effects determinations were made by the applicant for each species.  The field review, records review, and accompanying effects determinations provide documentation of the potential effects of the project on endangered and threatened federally listed species within the action area.  Listed
species potentially located within a four-mile radius of the project site include:

 

Species Nomenclature

Federal Status

Fish

 

Snail darter (Percina tanasi)

Threatened

Flowering Plants

 

Large-flowered skullcap (Scutellaria montana)

Threatened

Mammals

 

Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis)

Endangered

Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis)

Threatened

 

There is no critical habitat designated within the project area.

To minimize effects to the snail darter, TDOT agreed to prohibit in-stream work from February 1 through April 30 to avoid the spawning season.  TDOT requested concurrence that the proposed project is "not likely to adversely affect" the federally threatened snail darter.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) letter dated April 18, 2016 stated that due to the size of the streams potentially disturbed by the project, the agency would not anticipate a year-round population of snail darters occurring within the project area.  Therefore, USFWS concurs with TDOT's determination of "not likely to adversely affect" for this species based on a spawning season prohibition on in-stream work.

Between May and September 2015, the project site was visited ten times and surveyed for plant species.  Field determinations were made for species easy to identify and for species that were more difficult to identify, and plant specimens were collected and taken to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga lab to be examined.  Two hundred thirty-one species of vascular plants were observed.  Five state listed rare plant species were observed within areas southeast and
southwest of the interchange.  The large flowered skullcap was not found within the project area and no federally listed endangered plant species were identified.  The USFWS letter dated November 9, 2015 stated that upon review of the 2015 plant survey results, the agency concurs with TDOT's determination of "not likely to adversely affect" for large flowered skullcap due to no observations during surveys.

In order to determine the presence of bats, a mist netting survey was performed between May 29 and  June 3, 2017, at four sites determined to be suitable netting locations.  Efforts resulted in the capture of two endangered gray bats (Myotis grisescens); no other bat species were documented. The survey information was provided to the USFWS via letter dated September 7, 2017.  On September 20, 2017, the USFWS concurred with TDOT’s determination of “not likely to adversely affect” for the Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat based on the negative survey results; the USFWS indicated that the referenced bat survey is valid until April 1, 2020.

The September 20, 2017 USFWS letter stated that the agency is unaware of any federally listed or proposed species that would be impacted by the project.  Therefore, based on the best information available at the time, the USFWS believes that the requirements of section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (Act) of 1973, as amended, are fulfilled for all species that currently receive protection under the Act.

OTHER APPROVALS:  Before a permit may be issued, water quality certification must be provided by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) pursuant to Section 401(a)(1) of the CWA (33 U.S.C. 1341), that applicable water quality standards will not be violated.  Additionally, TVA approval is required under Section 26a of the TVA Act for the proposed project.  The U.S. Coast Guard has determined that a bridge permit is not required for this project.  Other
federal, state, and/or local approvals may be required for the proposed work.

REQUEST FOR PUBLIC HEARING:  Any person may request a public hearing. The request must be submitted in writing to the District Engineer within the designated comment period of the notice and must state the specific reasons for requesting the public hearing.

COMMENT PERIOD:  Written statements received in this office within 30 days from the date of this notice will become a part of the administrative record and will be considered in the determination.  Any response to this notice should be directed to William Worrall, Nashville District Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Division, at the above address, at 615-369-7513, or via email: william.e.worrall@usace.army.mil.

/s/

Joshua W. Frost
Chief, Technical Services Branch
Regulatory Division
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers