Environmental Matters > Six County Association
Six County Association of Governments Construction and Operation
On July 30, 2001, the Six County Association of Governments (SCAOG) filed a Petition for Exemption with the Surface Transportation Board (Board) for authority to construct and operate 43.2 miles of new single-track rail line in Sanpete, Sevier, and Juab Counties, Utah. This new line would connect the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) mainline about near Juab, Utah, to a proposed coal transfer terminal facility about 0.5 mile southwest of Salina, Utah. Operations over the rail line would consist of one round trip or 2 train trips per day.
On June 29, 2007, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was issued by the Board’s Office of Environmental Analysis (OEA) in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The DEIS was prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Board’s regulations for implementing NEPA, the guidance provided by the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) regulations implementing the procedural provisions of NEPA, and BLM’s and Corps’ regulations, policy procedures, and guidance documents.
Based on the comments received on the DEIS, OEA decided to prepare a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for public review and comment. OEA issued the SDEIS on May 2, 2014. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and BLM were cooperating agencies on the SDEIS. The SDEIS addressed five specific matters: (1) the range of reasonable alternatives discussed in the DEIS, (2) evaluation of three new alternative rail routes that were not studied in detail in the DEIS (Alternatives B1, B2, and B3) and re-evaluation of a route dismissed in the DEIS (Alternative N1), (3) discussion and results of wetland investigations performed by the Applicant, (4) development of additional mitigation for the potential environmental impacts on the region’s resources from the Proposed Action, and (5) a discussion of the progress of additional efforts pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act after the DEIS was issued.
OEA extended the comment period on the DEIS to coincide with the comment period for the SDEIS. OEA provided a 45-day public comment period, which ended on June 23, 2014. After the close of the comment period on the DEIS and the SDEIS, OEA prepared a Final EIS (FEIS) that considered comments received on the content and conclusions of both the DEIS and SDEIS. In addition, it sets forth the mitigation measures recommended by OEA to minimize environmental impacts associated with this project. It also contains OEA’s major conclusions based on the information available to date; consultation with Federal, state, and local agencies; input from a wide variety of organizations and citizens of Utah; and its own independent environmental analysis. OEA has identified Alternative B3/B2 as its Environmentally Preferable Alternative for the proposed new rail line because it would have the least impacts to water resources (including wetlands) and associated biological resources, as well as fewer impacts to cultural and historic resources. See project website www.sixcountyutahrail.com.
Major Environmental Conclusions
The major conclusions are set forth below:
- The proposed rail line would remove up to 750 truck trips per day (one way) from local roads. These trucks currently haul coal produced by the SUFCO mine out of the area. The trucks pass through the cities of Salina, Centerfield, Gunnison, and Levan on their way to the loading facility near Salina, where the coal is removed from the trucks and loaded onto trains. The trucks use local and state highways as well as city streets that are not designed for heavy truck loads. E ach truck carries about 43 tons of coal.
- OEA originally considered 15 build alternatives in the DEIS. Thirteen of the alternatives were dismissed from further consideration for a variety of reasons. In addition to the No-Action Alternative (Alternative A), two build alternatives were carried forward for detailed analysis: (1) the Applicant’s Proposed Action as of the Draft EIS (Alternative B) and (2) a second alternative (Alternative C).
- The SDEIS examined five build alternatives in addition to the No-Action Alternative (Alternative A). The build alternatives consist of Alternative B (the Proposed Action in the DEIS), three modified alternative routes (Alternatives B1, B2, and B3) developed by the Applicant after issuance of the DEIS, and Alternative N1 near Mills, Utah, which had been dismissed in the DEIS but was re-evaluated in the SDEIS.
- Each of the build alternatives considered in the DEIS, SDEIS, and FEIS would result in adverse impacts, primarily to wetlands, farmlands, and cultural resources. To minimize and, in some cases, avoid potential environmental impacts to these resources, OEA has recommended that the Board impose environmental mitigation measures. These measures include requiring the Applicant to use construction practices that would maintain natural water flow and drainage, and use best management practices.
- OEA assessed noise and vibration impacts that would result from both rail line construction and train operations on the proposed new rail line. Following the Board’s regulations for noise analysis, OEA first determined whether the project would result in an increase in noise exposure as measured by a day-night average noise level (L dn) of 3 A-weighted decibels (dBA) or more and an increase to a noise level of 65 dBA L dn.
- OEA’s analysis indicated that the width of the 65-dBA L dn wayside train noise contour would be 38 feet, a distance that is within the proposed right-of-way limits for the project—a 100-foot-wide right-of-way would be required for rail operations, and a 200-foot-wide right-of-way would be required for and during construction of the rail line. No sensitive receptors are located within the 65-dBA L dn wayside noise contour for the project. However, because of the relatively low background noise levels in the study area, 16 residences located within 0.25 mile of the crossings would likely hear train warning signals sounded at the public crossings. OEA recommended mitigation to minimize construction-related noise.
- The Applicant’s Proposed Action (Alternative B on the north and south in the DEIS) would fill 12.3 acres of wetlands. Three new alternatives were studied in the SDEIS that would reduce potential project-related wetland impacts. The alternatives studied in detail would fill 3.1 acres if the Applicant’s new Proposed Action (Alternative B/B2) were constructed or 2.1 acres if Alternative B3/B2 were constructed. Alternative N1, which would impact 0.5 acres was studied but dismissed for safety reasons. OEA has recommended 17 mitigation measures to avoid or reduce impacts on water resources and wetlands in the FEIS.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that the Proposed Action and Alternatives would have no effect on threatened or endangered species. USFWS has designated critical habitat for two federally listed species: one bird species, the southwestern willow flycatcher ( Empidonax traillii extimus), and one plant species, the heliotrope milkvetch ( Astragalus montii). Project-related construction and operation would not affect these species because the areas designated as critical habitat for each of these species are outside the project right-of-way (area of disturbance). Also, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has stated that no threatened, endangered, or sensitive species are present on BLM-administered land in the project right-of-way. Other minor impacts to wildlife habitat are addressed with proposed mitigation.
- Construction of the proposed rail line would result in the loss of 66 acres of irrigated farmland and between 126 acres (Alternative B/B2) and 165 acres (Alternative B3/B2) of non-irrigated and sub-irrigated cropland
- The potential overall project benefits from the reduction of truck traffic include reduced congestion and improved safety on affected roads, reduced traffic delay, reduced noise in communities along local roads, reduced local air pollutant emissions, reduced roadway maintenance costs, and longer pavement life.
- Construction of the proposed rail line would potentially eliminate 108 jobs in the trucking industry. These jobs could be offset by new jobs in the rail industry. OEA’s analysis indicates that any socioeconomic impacts that could occur from job loss in the trucking industry would not be disproportionately borne by minority or low-income populations.
- Construction of the proposed rail line would adversely affect up to 36 properties within the area of potential effects that are eligible or unevaluated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. OEA, in coordination with the Utah State Historic Preservation Officer, BLM, USACE, the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, State Parks and Recreation, 11 federally recognized tribes, and the Applicant, is preparing a Programmatic Agreement to satisfy the requirements, of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
- Issuance of this FEIS completes the Board’s environmental review process. The Board will either: (1) approve a transaction as proposed, without conditions; (2) approve the transaction with conditions to offset or reduce potential impacts, including environmental impacts, of the proposed transaction; or (3) disapprove the transaction entirely. The Board will consider the entire environmental record, including the DEIS, the SDEIS, the FEIS, all public comments, and OEA’s final environmental recommendations, including final recommended mitigation measures.
Issuance of the FEIS concludes the environmental review process. The Board will now make a Final Decision on the Proposed Action. The Board will consider the entire environmental record, including the DEIS, the SDEIS, the FEIS, all public comments, and OEA’s final environmental recommendations, including final recommended mitigation measures.