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Tennessee Environmental Procedures Manual

Chapter 9: Environmental Commitments and Coordination With Design and Construction Activities

9.3 Commitments for Technical Areas

The technical studies conducted for NEPA and the permit applications that follow the NEPA phase often include commitments that must be carried out by the Natural Resources Office or the Social and Cultural Resources Office. This section discusses some of the types of commitments for cultural and ecological resource impacts, noise impacts, and hazardous materials.

9.3.1 Cultural Resources

In the area of cultural resources (i.e., historic/architectural resources and archaeological resources) commitments may be made when it is found that a resource listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) will be affected by a proposed project. Federal laws, such as Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, require agencies that are proposing federally funded or permitted projects to explore alternatives to avoid or reduce harm to historic properties.

For TDOT projects, once an adverse effect has been identified, TDOT will work with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the FHWA, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (if they choose to participate), Tribal representatives (as applicable) and the public (including Section 106 Consulting Parties) to develop methods to avoid, minimize, or mitigate impacts. Agreed upon minimization and/or mitigation measures will be funded through the project and are often included in a legally binding document, called a Memorandum of Agreement, or MOA. This agreement is signed by FHWA and the SHPO, and is concurred with by TDOT. In addition, sometimes other parties that have obligations under the MOA will also sign the agreement. Sometimes, commitments are made in a Section 106 Effects Assessment and are considered in a "Finding of No Adverse Effect" by the SHPO. TDOT and FHWA will ensure that all commitments made in the MOA or in the Section 106 Effects Assessment are carried out.

Examples of such commitments include:

  • Preparing documentation for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) or Historic American Engineering Record (HAER);
  • Relocating a historic structure such as a building or bridge;
  • Landscaping to serve as a visual screen;
  • Special surface treatment on retaining walls; and
  • Recovery of Significant Information (RSI/Phase III archaeology).

FHWA will not authorize right-of-way funding until the final NEPA document is approved and the necessary MOA is fully executed.

9.3.1.1 Implementing Architectural/Historical Commitments

Once commitments have been made either in an MOA or in a Section 106 Effects Assessment, the Historic Preservation Program Manager leads the effort for carrying forward commitments made. When an MOA is fully executed, the Historic Preservation Program Manager sends a copy of the agreement to the Director of the applicable TDOT Divisions accompanied by a letter that outlines the actions that must be taken. When there is no MOA, any commitments made are outlined in a letter, which is also sent to the Division Directors. Any commitments are also entered into the Commitments Tracking Database in the Department's PPRM system.

The preparation of HABS/HAER documentation is undertaken by historic preservation staff, with assistance from the TDOT photographer. The supervisor ensures that the documentation is completed prior to contract letting. For a landscape plan, the Historic Preservation Program Manager requests in-house (TDOT) or consultant assistance. The landscape plan is sent to TDOT staff responsible for the project plans with a request to include the landscape plan commitment on the plans and in the construction contract book.

The Historic Preservation Program Manager is on the distribution list for right-of-way plans. Once received, the plans are reviewed to ensure that the design measures included in the MOA are included on the plans and plan specifications. The Historic Preservation Program Manager then sends a letter to the Design Division commenting on the plans and reiterating design commitments. This letter will often also request notes be added to plans delineating historic properties and requesting that such areas not be used for construction staging or right-of-way easements.

Normally, the construction plans are not reviewed, but if there are items of concern that the Historic Preservation Program Manager wants to track, a request will be made that the supervisor be sent construction plans and be notified of the pre-construction meeting.

9.3.1.2 Implementing Archaeological Commitments

All Phase I and Phase II archaeological work is undertaken during the NEPA process and is completed by the time the final NEPA document is approved. During this process, TDOT attempts to avoid impacts to archaeological sites. If NRHP listed or eligible sites are found within the project's Area of Potential Effects, the Archaeology Program Manager coordinates with the TDOT design staff to find ways to avoid the sites.

When avoidance is not feasible, TDOT will implement design modifications to minimize project effects and may enter into an MOA that will include a commitment to conduct Recovery of Significant Information (RSI/Phase III Data Recovery). If there are mitigation commitments for architectural/historical resources, the archaeological commitments are included in the same MOA. If not, an MOA will be executed just for the archaeological work.

If an MOA that stipulates RSI is executed, the fieldwork generally begins as soon as possible following approval of the final NEPA document and acquisition of the property. If a landowner is cooperative, fieldwork sometimes begins before property acquisition. Generally, TDOT contracts the RSI work to the archaeological contractor that completed the Phase I and II tasks. Once the field work for the data recovery task is completed, TDOT notifies the SHPO and provides them with an opportunity to inspect the site. The Archaeology Program Manager notifies the NEPA Documentation Office planner responsible for the project when the RSI work has been completed and the planner then enters the task completion into the PPRM commitments tracking database. The fieldwork work must be completed before FHWA authorizes funding for the construction phase. Under certain circumstances the Archaeology Program Manager will have notes placed on the plans to advise construction contractors of their responsibilities and specific requirements to fulfill stipulations in an MOA.

Whether or not an MOA is executed, the Archaeology Program Manager should request that the Design or Construction Divisions place a note on the plans/specifications that informs the contractor of what actions to take if archaeological resources are unexpectedly discovered during construction. This does not happen frequently, but when it does, the contractor or TDOT Construction Office should notify the State Archaeologist (615/741-1588) either directly or through the Archaeology Program Manager. If construction contractors unexpectedly encounter archaeological deposits, state law requires them to immediately stop work in the area of the find and contact the State Archaeologist.

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9.3.2 Ecological Commitments

Ecological commitments fall under the Environmental Division's Natural Resources Office, within either the Ecology Section or the Environmental Permits Section.

9.3.2.1 Environmental Permits Section

The Environmental Permits Section ensures that commitments to avoid or minimize impacts to waterways, sinkholes and caves are included in the permit documents. In addition to commitments provided by the Ecology Section, the Permits Section receives a water pollution abatement plan from the Design Division, which is then reviewed typically by a consultant and included in a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), also typically prepared by a consultant. The Permits Section outlines commitments in the permit application and performs a final check of the accompanying set of plans. The approved permit application(s) and plans are sent by the Permits Section Manager to the responsible TDOT staff to be included in the contract specifications book prior to contract advertisement. If a permit is received after the contract book is completed, then the Permits Section sends the permit commitments to the Construction Division for inclusion in the plans.

Consultants managed by the Permits Section inspect erosion and sediment controls on selected projects during construction. The Comprehensive Inspections Office performs Quality Control/Quality Assurance inspections.

9.3.2.2 Ecology Section

Biologists in the Ecology Section coordinate with Structures, Design, and Construction engineers during project location, planning, and design phases to develop preliminary impact avoidance, minimization, and mitigation commitments for  streams, wetlands, endangered species, and water quality impacts that were identified earlier in the project development process. Types of commitments include notes to avoid spawning or roosting seasons of protected species, notes to restrict construction activities from wetlands or endangered species locations, detailed plans to replace stream channels or tree canopy, or arrangements to replace or bank wetland impacts. During the project design phase, the Ecology Section provides final mitigation and commitment implementation information to the Design Division and to the Permits Section for inclusion in project plans and permit applications.

The Ecology Section staff or ecological consultants monitor the implementation of stream, wetland, and threatened and endangered species mitigation and supervise adjustments needed during, or following, construction. The Ecology Section also deals with construction changes or necessary remediation affecting natural resources.

The Environmental Division biologists coordinate the effort throughout project development to ensure that commitments made to avoid or minimize impacts to threatened and endangered species are honored. Biologists work with the Design and Construction Division staffs to get all commitments into construction plans and the contract book. Typical plan notes require that Environmental Division biologists are notified of the pre-construction conference and that the construction staff notifies them in advance of certain construction milestones. Other notes may restrict construction activities. Environmental Division biologists arrange for, perform, or participate in, and monitor any required species relocations. A person holding an FWS license for the particular species is required to be present when species are being handled. Seasonal and other restrictions are also monitored by Environmental Division biologists.

9.3.2.3 Statewide Storm Water Management Plan

TDOT, in partnership with TDEC, has developed a Statewide Storm Water Management Plan (SSWMP) to increase protection of water quality. Development of the SSWMP grew out of the Consent Order entered into by TDOT and TDEC to ensure that storm water management is incorporated throughout TDOT's operations, and that storm water and water quality are considered in successive stages of transportation project development, including planning, environmental, design, right-of-way acquisition, construction and maintenance. Information on the SSWMP can be found at http://www.tdot.state.tn.us/sswmp/.

The SSWMP became effective in November 2007. The requirements of SSWMP have been incorporated into the latest version of this procedures manual.

The commitments continue into the field through oversight by the Storm Water Coordinators. For each project, the Storm Water Coordinator holds an environmental pre-construction meeting with the Construction Office and contractor to go through project commitment identify permit boundaries or sensitive features, review permit requirements, review SWPPP requirements, practical staging of construction affecting Erosion Prevention and Sediment Control (EPSC) measures, any changes in traffic control affecting EPSC measures, and any construction measures in question.

9.3.3 Noise Commitments

Two types of commitments are made regarding noise impacts:

  • Abatement measures for impacted receivers; and
  • Construction noise reduction measures.

Noise studies conducted during the NEPA process may reveal that the project, when built, will have a noise impact on adjacent properties. The noise study may identify that construction of a noise barrier may be feasible to reduce the noise levels at impacted receivers. The commitment to study the feasibility and location of noise barriers is made in the final NEPA document. After the final NEPA document is approved, TDOT will generally work with a consultant to identify wall locations that meet FHWA noise abatement requirements and to identify the length and height of the walls. The Noise staff (within the Air and Noise Section under the Social and Cultural Resources Office) will send a memo to the Structures Division, along with a copy of the consultant's noise analysis. The Structures Division will then prepare a preliminary design of the walls, working with the consultant, as needed to ensure the effectiveness of the wall design and placement. TDOT will hold a noise meeting with affected residents to get their input into the noise abatement proposal(s). Then, the Structures Division will prepare the final design of the walls after comments are addressed.

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9.3.4 Hazardous Materials Commitments

A Phase 1 Preliminary Site Assessment (ESA) and a Phase II Preliminary Investigation for hazardous materials are conducted for TDOT projects. TDOT subcontracts out all of its hazardous materials studies. As discussed in Section 5.3.6.2, Study Process for Hazardous Materials, differing levels of studies are conducted at differing times during the project planning process to identify potential hazardous materials issues that must be considered in project planning. For example:

  1. If there is a known hazardous materials concern, an ESA and/or Phase II preliminary investigation may be conducted as early as the TPR stage. The Hazardous Materials Coordinator should review TPRs in the pre-NEPA phase and inform the TDOT Project Planning Division staff if any hazardous materials studies are required during this phase;
  2. For a project with more than one alternative, an ESA is conducted during the NEPA phase. This information is then used in the alternatives evaluation. If the NEPA consultant performs the ESA, the Hazardous Materials Coordinator will review the report; and
  3. For a project where only one alternative is being evaluated in a NEPA document, often no hazardous materials studies are conducted in the NEPA phase. During preliminary design when the project's location is determined, either a modified Phase I/ESA study or Phase II investigation is conducted.

Under either scenario #1 or #2 above, a commitment may be made in the NEPA document to undertake initial or supplemental hazardous materials studies during the preliminary plan stage. The Design Division sends a copy of all preliminary plans to the Hazardous Materials Coordinator. The coordinator reviews the plans and contracts out a modified Phase I study or a Phase II investigation. If hazardous material sites may be affected, the Hazardous Materials Coordinator works with the Design staff in an attempt to modify the design to avoid the sites. If sites are identified adjacent to the right-of-way, notes should be placed on the plans regarding how to manage the site if it cannot be avoided. The Hazardous Materials Coordinator will contract for and oversee the remediation after right-of-way has been purchased and before construction. Under scenario #3, the NEPA document will include a commitment to undertake studies and remediation, as warranted, during the post-NEPA phase.

Another commitment relates to asbestos. The Hazardous Materials Coordinator requests the Design Division place notes on the project plans stating that the contractor is required to properly address asbestos encountered during project construction.

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