U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
FHWA Resource Center
Office of Innovation Implementation
|Volume 1, Issue 3||
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Dear Environmental Colleague,
Although this newsletter greets you later than expected, we hope you find valuable information within. As always, your feedback and requests are always welcome. If you have comments about a story or story ideas you’d like to see, please let us know.
Sincerely, Don Cote
A Primitive Fish With Modern Transportation Issues
From the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the Potomac on the east coast to bridges crossing the Sacramento River (San Francisco Bay) on the west coast and on projects in between, sturgeon are becoming a significant issue in project development.
Sturgeon are large primitive fish; they are virtually unchanged since they coexisted with the dinosaurs. They are typically found in large northern hemisphere river systems, and migrate between marine and upstream spawning grounds in fresh water.
Sturgeon are included in the family Acipenseridae and consists of four genera and 24 species of Sturgeon. All sturgeons have a cartilaginous skeleton, and protractile, tube-like mouth and sensory barbels on the snout. Eight species of sturgeon occur in North America (4 are listed as T&E one is proposed for listing).
Sturgeon are long lived and take up to 15 years to reach sexual maturity.
Sturgeon’s requirements for large stretches of river, a slow reproductive rate and high value as a source of meat and caviar make them vulnerable to extinction. The main threats to their existence are dams blocking migration routes, over-fishing and river pollution.
Sturgeon occur in the larger river systems of most of the 50 US states (excluding Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona).
While the life history of sturgeon can vary somewhat based upon the specific species and the geographic region and temperature regime they inhabit, adult sturgeon generally migrate from the ocean to upstream sand and gravel spawning areas in moderate currents, off the main stems of rivers. Males apparently form into groups near the spawning areas. Females lay large numbers of sticky eggs that adhere to the bottom of the river, stones and vegetation. Fertilization is external. Recent studies have found that vocalization may be involved during or prior to spawning (If this proves to be the case, underwater noise may have “masking” impacts at levels lower than those causing physical damage). Eggs hatch in about a week and after about 20 days the hatchlings have changed into miniature adults that live in the river feeding first on plankton then on benthic invertebrates. They leave the river for the ocean after approximately 5 years. They seem to stay in the ocean littoral area until they reach adulthood. At sexual maturity (approximately
15 years) adults return to the river to spawn (late spring to summer). From then on, they typically spawn once every 2-3 years for the rest of their lifespan, which may exceed 50 years. They return to the oceans after spawning to feed and grow. Adult sturgeons do not seem to feed much during migration. Some of the larger species (white sturgeon) can weigh over 1000 lbs.
Because of their late maturity, long life and migration requirements, sturgeon are especially susceptible to changes in their migration routes. Dams are particularly problematic as they cut off populations from their spawning grounds. Over-fishing has also damaged once robust populations. To a lesser extent, water pollution and other changes in their habitat may be reducing their populations.
Sturgeon are becoming an increasingly important environmental issue for bridge projects.
The effects of construction noise from the use of explosives, pile driving, and other forms of underwater noise have become a sensitive issue for the resource agencies. Measures of non-lethal underwater noise (i.e., temporary hearing threshold shifts (TTS), hormonal changes, stress and behavioral effects) are becoming common in discussions setting project noise restrictions.
The effects of pile driving on fish were highlighted in a special session at theInternational Conference on Ecology and Transportation in San Diego, CA. A CALTRANS funded study by Mardi C. Hastings and Arthur N. Popper, Effects of Sound on Fish was recently made available on the Web.
A pending Transportation Pooled Fund Program study will further research the effects of pile driving on fish. The new study is slated to provide an analysis of how piles transmit sound into the water, develop models for sound transmission and attenuation and identify needed research to address regulatory issues.
The point is, for a variety of reasons, the effects of underwater construction noise on fish in general, and on sturgeon in particular, are becoming more prominent in planning for potential project impacts.
This is an increasingly critical issue because as environmental professionals, we have a duty to preserve and enhance fish resources as part of our stewardship responsibilities. In addition, by law, impacts to threatened or endangered species (ESA Section 7) must be avoided. Recent and future listings of species and populations of sturgeon require awareness of potential highway project impacts and avoidance of any impacts to these populations.
Types of impacts to be aware of, if sturgeons (or other aquatic resources) are in your project area include:
All of these potential impacts must be addressed in project planning and coordinated with the appropriate resource agencies (typically FWS, NMFS, COE, tribal entities). If there is any potential to affect (“may affect”) a listed federal species, the project must consult with FWS/NMFS under the Endangered Species Act. Failure to plan early and reach an agreement with the agencies may result in delays or stoppage of a project. An actual violation of the Endangered Species Act could result in personal fines or criminal penalties.
Species currently listed as Threatened or Endangered:
If you have sturgeon issues and need help, please contact William VanPeeters at the FHWA Environmental Technical Service Team at (415)744-0116 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|A First for the CIA?
This past June marked a first for the CIA. No, not that CIA. We’re talking about FHWA’s CIA -- Community Impact Assessment.
The first Southwest Community Impact Assessment (CIA) Workshop took place at the Scottsdale Hilton Resort and Villas in Scottsdale, Arizona, on June 6 - 9, 2005. The workshop was hosted by Rick Duarte, the Environmental Manager of ADOT, and Steve Thomas, The Arizona Division Environmental Manager, along with HDR Consultants. This well organized four day conference included a variety of current CIA issues, site reviews, exhibits, and local highlights.
The theme of the workshop was the Community Impact Assessment: Tools of the Trade. Each participant received information packages and a “toolbox” they could take home with them. Some focus areas were defining impact areas, surveying, and working with diverse populations and cultures.
|Over 150 people from highway development disciplines as varied as design engineers, planning practitioners, and technical specialists attended the Workshop.
Some notable highlights were:
Participant Brenda Kragh, from the Office of Planning, FHWA Headquarters, praised this regional workshop as one of the best or the best she has ever attended, adding that she has attended or participated at almost every single one since 1995.
Tribal Consultation Best Practices Report Published
The report documents the results of a project that was conceived by NATHPO, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the National Park Service, and begun in January 2004. The goal of the project was to identify a best practice model for consultation between Federal Agencies and Tribes. A survey was developed and sent to all Federal Preservation Officers and federally-recognized Tribes asking them to identify successful consultations, the participants, and the factors they felt contributed to a successful result.
Survey responses were collected through November 2004. Sixty six (66) responses were received and sixty one (61) projects were identified by the thirteen (13) Tribes and twenty four (24) Agencies that responded to the survey. Some respondents identified more than one project and some projects were identified by more than one respondent. Survey responses from the transportation community included responses from seven FHWA Division Offices - AR, GA, ME, NC, PA, NY and TN; and six State DOT’s - AK, AR, GA, IA, NC and PA.
Some of the findings identified in the report include:
other parties involved in the consultation.
Federal Agencies have an obligation to consult with Tribes on a government-to-government basis for all Federal undertakings in order to comply with the Section 106 process of the National Historic Preservation Act. The results of this study will assist consulting parties arrive at successful results by identifying and promoting effective consultation practices.
The entire report can be downloaded from the NATHPO website.
Improving the Quality of Environmental Documents
On April 18, 2005, the three Task Teams met in Chicago. Representatives from FHWA Headquarters and the Environmental Team of the Resource Center also participated in the meeting.
The Legal Sufficiency Task Team agreed on several possible courses of action including establishing parameters for special focus in legal review issues such as when legal counsel should be involved, preparation of Administrative Records, EIS formats and highlighting best practices (such as the Office of the Chief Counsel – Midwestern Field Legal Service best practice approach to attorney involvement and legal sufficiency review).
What’s Going On?