GTCA submitted written comments to the FHWA and VDOT on September 16, 2013.
The General Trimbles Community Association is pleased to have an opportunity to participate as a consulting party in the Section 106 Programmatic Agreement process. We have extensively reviewed previous drafts of the PA, meeting minutes and correspondence and comments from both signatories and other consulting parties.
GTCA’s analysis centers on the probable (i.e., quantifiable effects) that proposed mitigation measures will have on the adverse effects of the undertaking. While we are not experts in the Section 106 process, it seems clear that the objective of the PA and various stipulations is to ”avoid, minimize or mitigate” the documented adverse effects. Consequently, the evaluation of the content and commitments in the PA document must be tied to a clear understanding of what these actions are likely to produce. Said another way, the signatories should not equate proposed mitigation activities, as accomplishing tangible mitigation, unless there is clear quantifiable data to measure the effects. The PA draft makes clear, and VDOT repeatedly emphasized during the Sept. 5th meeting that the actual effects (i.e. mitigation outcomes) could not be accurately assessed or predicted until significant design engineering has been completed.
Why is this point so important? Because the public needs to be assured that the design requirements and associated elements of the stipulations do not become mere actions with no significant diminution of the underlying problem: the documented; significant impact that the construction of the BCP will have on cherished historical resources.
Recent comments by Ms. Kathleen Kilpatrick, Virginia Department of Historic Resources and Charlene D. Vaughn, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, buttress the conclusion that FHWA/VDOT have not provided a clear and convincing analysis of what levels of mitigation will be achieved.
Ms. Kilpatrick, in an email dated Sept. 13, 2013 to Mary Ann Ghadban stated:
“Within my area of focus, for example, I continue to question whether the overall mitigation now under discussion is sufficient to offset proposed project impacts and the nature of the effect that the bypass will have on resources, including the district. Impacts and off-setting mitigation should be proportional.”
Ms. Vaughn, in a letter to Irene Rico dated Sept. 13, 2013 comments:
“It is a matter of concern to the ACHP that commitments to developing the BCP in a context sensitive manner and to close Route 234 within the boundaries of the Manassas National Battlefield Park (MNBP) remain poorly defined (emphasis added). The PA contains many excellent mitigation measures. However, we remain concerned that key aspects if the mitigation and project design, including determining how noise and visual impacts will be minimized are deferred until after the Record of Decision.”
Reading through the PA and other background material, it is obvious that the visual and auditory impacts will be extremely significant, otherwise there would be little need nor controversy regarding the PA document. Strategies identified to mitigate these effects (depressed roadbed, quiet pavement, narrowed rights of way, berms) are deemed to be effective without any quantifiable data to support that conclusion. It was clear from the September 5, 2013 meeting that empirical benchmarks for mitigation of various adverse effects have either not been developed or that they do not exist as objective standards. In fact, many of the stipulated mitigation measures work at cross-purposes to each other. Narrowed ROW is inconsistent with berms to control noise effects. Depressed roadbeds require more extensive ROW and berms and greater ROW negatively affect visual impacts and destroy the existing view shed. Taken in this context, the PA stipulations do not demonstrate that there will be true mitigation, nor even significant mitigation.
GTCA believes that VDOT and FWHA must provide a more robust quantitative model to forecast the actual outcomes of various mitigation strategies, before preliminary engineering and design phases are undertaken. These benchmarks should be used not only to guide the design phase, but to provide a fixed point of reference to assess how well the actual design elements meet the test of mitigation. GTCA agrees with ACHP’s recommendation that “establishing performance standards or using Memoranda of Agreements (MOAs) to document agreed upon mitigation measures” is vital to the integrity and transparency of the Section 106 process. (Letter from Charlene D. Vaughn, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to Irene Rico 9/13/13).
Several speakers representing signatories stated “mitigation might not be possible”. The signatories should understand that many if not all of the consulting parties are fearful that the BCP will proceed without any real commitment to effective mitigation and that decision makers will simply declare that effective mitigation is either impractical, not cost effective or irrelevant to the ultimate decision to construct the road due to “purpose, need and viability” criteria trumping all other considerations.
GTCA’s comments that follow are directed at specific areas of the PA document, but should be interpreted in light of our broader concern that the overall commitment to effective mitigation is lacking any quantification standards.