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Defining jargon of bridge project

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BY JOHN CARR, WILBUR SMITH ASSOCIATES

By The Staff

Section 106. NHPA. Mitigation. NEPA. These are among the confusing technical jargon that easily rolls off the tongues of those closely associated with the Milton-Madison Bridge Project. But what do they all mean, and why should you care? To simplify it, think two words: environment and history. First, leaders of major projects like this are required by federal law to consider t

 

Section 106. NHPA. Mitigation. NEPA. These are among the confusing technical jargon that easily rolls off the tongues of those closely associated with the Milton-Madison Bridge Project.

But what do they all mean, and why should you care?

To simplify it, think two words: environment and history. First, leaders of major projects like this are required by federal law to consider the impact their actions might have on the environment and historic properties.

We look at impacts on the physical environment, things like animals, plants and water quality, but we also look at how our actions affect people. These projects also must examine potential effects on historic properties. This takes on special importance in Madison and Milton, two historically significant communities.

Project leaders follow a series of specific steps to make sure they properly consider potential environmental and historic issues. Those steps are outlined in great detail in two federal laws established about 40 years ago.

NEPA

In 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, was signed into law. Not only does it establish U.S. environmental policy, it is considered the foundation of the modern environmental movement. The NEPA process guides public officials to make decisions based on an understanding of environmental consequences of their projects and to take actions that protect, restore and enhance the environment, including historic properties.

NEPA requires project leaders to consider and document any environmental impact in the decision-making process. A lot hinges on that environmental document. The project can’t move forward until it receives federal approval, which we anticipate happening in February 2010.

NHPA and ‘Section 106’

The other federal law, the National Historic Preservation Act, or NHPA, was enacted in 1966. The purpose of the NHPA is to preserve historical and cultural resources as living parts of community life, and provide opportunities for organizations and persons having interests in historic properties to express their views to project decision-makers.

The NHPA contains one particular section that gets a lot of attention on major projects, called “Section 106.” The purpose of “106” is to balance historic preservation concerns with the needs of the project.

Project leaders look closely at how their actions might affect properties listed or eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 106 process is designed to give organizations and citizens an opportunity to make their voices heard on major projects. It does not require the preservation of these properties, but it does require that historic significance and value be considered during decision-making.

To make sure historic properties are given proper consideration, the Milton-Madison Bridge Project works with a special group called Section 106 Consulting Parties. This group consists of people or organizations with special interest in historic preservation who have requested to participate. Anyone with an interest in historic preservation may request to be a Section 106 Consulting Party.

Their input is very valuable to this process. We need their perspective on historic matters which take on great importance in historic communities like Madison and Milton.

Anyone interested in historic preservation can belong to this group. Early on in the process, we invited citizens and organizations to join the 106 group. No one was turned away; everyone who asked to join was accepted.

The group includes individuals from Milton and Madison, as well as organizations including the State Historic Preservation Offices from Kentucky and Indiana, the National Park Service, Historic Madison, Jefferson Co. Historical Society, The Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, Native American tribes and the Advisory Council for Historic Places, which is the federal agency that oversees the process.

It is important to understand that while this 106 group provides input on the project and offers expert advice, it is not a decision-making body. Its role is to advise Kentucky and Indiana transportation officials who make the ultimate decisions regarding the project. But federal law requires that the opinions of the 106 group be held in high regard when it comes to issues about the project that impact historic resources.

Project leaders consult with the 106 group to complete three necessary steps in the process:

Step 1. Help identify historic properties in the project area;

Step 2. Discuss how those properties might be adversely affected by the project;

Step 3. Gather input on ways to make up for adverse impacts caused by the project ee" this is referred to as “mitigation.”

The Milton-Madison Bridge Project has completed steps one and two. A recent meeting with the 106 parties marked the beginning of step three.

Mitigation

Mitigation is the process during which project leaders compensate communities for adverse effects the project might have on historic properties and the environment. The law sets no specific amount of funding or percentage of for mitigation; it is determined on a project-by-project basis.

The level of mitigation measures committed to by the state and federal agencies involved in the project ee" in this case, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. Mitigation must correspond appropriately to the level of adverse impacts that the project may cause. These three agencies will make the final decisions as to how much funding will be allocated to mitigation and which mitigation measures will occur.

For example, if the project moves forward, replacement of the existing superstructure of the bridge means this crossing could be closed for as long as a year until the project is completed. The closure could reduce traffic and cause economic loss to businesses in the historic districts. During the Section 106 consultation process, there has been discussion to mitigate this potential loss using funds to help pay for additional advertising and marketing of the two cities to perhaps increase tourism. This would provide project updates, bridge-closure information and alternate directions, as well as provide general tourism information, to encourage visitors to continue coming to Madison and Milton, despite the bridge project.

Once the mitigations are decided by INDOT, KYTC and FHWA, project leaders will draft a document called a “Memorandum of Agreement,” or MOA, which will spell out the particulars of mitigation. Once signed by representitives of these three agencies, as well as the Kentucky and Indiana State Historic Preservation Officers, the document will be a legally binding commitment to implement all mitigation it outlines.

The $131 million estimated cost of replacing the bridge superstructure includes estimated mitigation costs for the project; the MOA and mitigation plans are expected to be finalized by February 2010.

We’re making good progress now in the mitigation process, which is one of the final steps toward that all-important environmental document. A public hearing is planned for January 2010 to present a draft of the environmental document to the community and take public comment.

Word on whether the project will receive the $95 million in federal stimulus funding that the states have applied for is expected in late January.

If we’re successful in winning that grant, and then finalize our environmental document, we’ll be well on our way to realizing a new bridge for Milton and Madison. Construction on the new bridge could begin as soon as the summer of 2010 and completed in early 2012.

 

John Carr of Wilbur Smith Associates of Lexinton, Ky., is an engineering consultant and project manager for the Milton-Madison Bridge project.