Friday, April 6, 2012

What is an Environmental Assessment?

The buzz word right now regarding the Railroad Relocation Project is the Environmental Assessment phase of the project.

Do you know the environmental assessment phase of this project has been going on since 2006? A Railroad Relocation Plan RFP was distributed in 2006. In that document, it stated that an environmental assessment should address the following issues:
  • Purpose and need of project
  • Project Description
  • Cost and funding source
  • Alternatives analyzed
  • Social, economic and environmental impacts
  • Mitigation measures
  • Soil conditions
  • Hydraulic analysis to determine impacts to the Flood Plain and a mitigation procedure for the impacts.
  • Right of way issues
  • Public process and regulatory agency involvement
  • Complete noise analysis to determine existing noise levels, prediction of post development noise levels, analysis of traffic noise abatement measures, and preparation of a noise analysis report.
The noise analysis part of the EA caught my interest. The tendency is to think about traffic, but what about those noise levels? The EPA has established noise emission standards for surface carriers engaged in interstate commerce by railroads. It will be very interesting to read the complete noise analysis report regarding the Canton siding option. These standards and rules were promulgated through the Noise Control Act. Congress declared in Section 2 of that Act that "it is the policy of the United States to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare."

Who knows where the city is heading with their options and proposed solutions. The most talked about solutions for the removal of the tracks in Downtown Sioux Falls are:
  • The Y Bridge Alternative over the river at Falls Park
  • The Near Downtown Alternative that would seriously impact Cliff Avenue between 12th and 14th Streets
  • The Canton Siding Alternative in SE Sioux Falls 
None of those locations paint a very pretty picture in terms of an environmental assessment.

The parking of train cars with hazardous materials in residential areas should raise an environmental concern. Trains moving through Sioux Falls neighborhoods that contain hazardous materials raise environmental concerns. The vast majority of motor freight and railroad transportation facilities are considered hazardous waste generators.  Is BSNF considered a hazardous waste generator under the EPA regulations?

The possibility of train derailment along any of these routes could create a serious environmental emergency in residential areas surrounding this rail line throughout Sioux Falls considering the increased rail activity to switch engines.

The social and economic impacts to these areas are serious. Property tax values would be impacted; noise levels would be impacted; the serenity now enjoyed in various residential settings in two of the options would forever be changed because of this railroad switching hub of activity.

Major traffic problems when a the heavily traveled north/south route on Cliff Avenue is blocked due to the increased rail activity with the "Near Downtown Alternative." Pushing traffic into surrounding residential areas is no real solution either. Major traffic problems with multiple at-grade crossings in the SE option. Traffic issues abound.

The bottom line is no federal funds can be accessed by the city through the SDDOT without the completion of an environmental assessment. This is a complicated process, no doubt about it. It seems pretty obvious that the Environmental Assessment phase is the roadblock to this project as evidenced by the lack of progress since 2006.  If this project is a no go because of insurmountable problems related to the Environmental Assessment, just tell the public and move on.


  1. The next public meeting is not scheduled until September 2012.

    This public meeting is scheduled AFTER the draft EA (environmental assessment) will be submitted to the Feds in June.

    City leaders have just spent 3,000+ tax dollars to meet with Burlington Northern officials. At this point, I am certain that they have a much clearer idea of which "alternatives" are still on the table.

    Those citizens that oppose the "Y Bridge Alternative" and those that oppose the "SE Rail Siding Alternative" have been given an opportunity to give public input (February 27-28, 2012).

    If the City intends to include the "Near Downtown Alternative" in the draft EA, then there needs to be an opportunity for the public to "weigh-in" on this option BEFORE IT IS SUBMITTED to the Feds.

    Both Director of Public Works, Mark Cotter, and Benesch, the consultant on this project, made statements at the February 2012 meetings that if additional public meetings were needed before September they would be scheduled.

    Will there be a public meeting held before the draft EA is submitted in June?

    ***I have e-mailed this inquiry to the Mayor, the eight Councilors, and the Public Works Director.

  2. Why doesn't the public get to see this environmental assessment BEFORE it gets submitted to the Feds? This is not right!!

  3. I just sent submitted this article to the Argus Leader..... Do you suppose it will get in?

    Tell the railroad truth Mayor?

    The mayor and city engineers told residents that only 1 train per week will need to use a proposed southside railroad sidling. Sources within BNSF are now estimating that 27 trains per week will need to use the south side turnaround if the rail yard is relocated. That's right, if the southeastern rail sidling option is approved, 27 trains per week will need to pass South through the eastern side of the city to "re orientate" on the new sidling, then travel back North through the entire Eastern side of the city to reach Brandon. Nine at grade street crossings are between the Falls and the new proposed siding location. This makes 23 streets per train will be blocked by the 2 mile long "super trains" in order for them to reach there destination in Brandon. 621 street crossings per week will be affected by trains with this new railroad relocation. The city has made no mention of this new information to ALL of the folks on the East side of the city. To add insult to injury the city will need the residents to cough up more than 30 million dollars on top of the 36 million in federal money for this "railroading". Think that you are going to get a overpass at your most used crossing? Not a chance, overpasses are at the very least 6 million a piece and none of these crossings are planned to be done within the current proposal. Have you experienced the traffic at 26th and Southeastern when a train passes through? Now you will have that joy up to 54 more times a week. When will you be honest Mr. Mayor and tell the ALL the folks what this small piece of land will really cost in the end to the east side residents. You better love watching the trains go by and hearing the whistle folks, because we are going to get a lot more of it.

    Brian Aker

  4. Fortunately, back in the late 1800's, our forefathers had the "vision" to include the initiative process in our State Constitution.

    Whatever "alternative" is chosen.......the "Y" bridge, the Canton Siding or the new "Near Downtown Alternative".........

    ALL have the potential to be "stopped" with a petition drive to take it to a public vote.

    Our entire community needs to be able to "speak" on this issue, not just the "few" who want 13 acres of downtown land for residential and commercial development.

    Sioux Falls Citizens..........what's your prediction on how that vote would go!!??