Bypass environmental report updated

More watershed, property impacts identified

by Trish Rudder

A reevaluated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a proposed U.S. 522 bypass was released on January 7 by the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH). The reevaluation was approved by the Federal Highway Administration on December 17, 2019.

The 618-page document includes the revised EIS (60 pages), the original EIS, two Morgan Messenger articles regarding the DOH workshop meetings in 2018 and 2019 in Berkeley Springs to discuss the bypass design, and copies of the comments from the public that were sent to the DOH regarding the bypass design.

The Fairview Connector, which is still being designed, was not included and is being evaluated separately because it was not originally evaluated in the original EIS.

To update the EIS, Highway official Lovell Facemire said the state highway division worked with state and federal agencies such as the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Administration.

According to the document, the purpose and need for the bypass is to improve traffic operations and improve safety. The Berkeley Springs Bypass “has undergone a refinement in design,” the Summary states, to include two deviations. The southern connection to U.S. 522 will include a roundabout and the northern connection will include a “T” intersection with a northbound slip ramp.

“Additional refinements were made at the intersections at Winchester Grade Road, Sugar Hollow Road, Johnson Mill Road, Martinsburg Road and Fairfax Street,” the Summary states.

Impact changes

The environmental reevaluation shows changes to the predicted impacts, including nearly a 60% increase in Right of Way acquisitions. The original EIS shows a need for the state to acquire 216.71 acres for the highway. The new study shows 345.91 acres of land are needed for the bypass — an increase of 129.2 acres.

The number of residences displaced by the bypass is now 41 instead of 29, and one business will be displaced instead of none.

The total acreage for prime and unique farmland within the right-of-way limits is 18.74, up from 3.72 acres.

The original EIS said the bypass would impact 405 linear feet of streams. The reevaluation said the roadway will impact 14,650 linear feet of streams.

The predicted impact to the Wetlands was reduced from 0.74 acres to 0.56 acres, according to the Statement.

According to the reevaluation, a wetland and stream assessment and wetland delineation were conducted for the bypass in accordance with the West Virginia Stream and Wetland Valuation Metric (SWVM) and is summarized in the US 522 Berkeley Spring Bypass and Fairview Connector – Wetland and Stream Technical Report, which is included in the project file and available for review upon request.

Site visits were conducted in June and July 2018 and July 2019.

“The field investigations identified four (4) wetlands and 24 streams within the Berkeley Spring[s] Bypass,” — an increase to what was stated in the original EIS.

“The new wetland and stream impacts were determined using project limits provided by the project engineer for the entire length of the Berkeley Springs Bypass between the southern and northern termini with existing US 522. Project limits were determined by adding a 50 feet buffer to the currently designed cut and fill slopes to account for potential minor changes in slope design. In addition, a 500 feet buffer was used at both termini to allow for final intersection/roundabout design and configuration. In all other areas, the construction limits (cut/fill) of the project, including sediment and erosion control ponds, were used to determine the project limits and areas of impact,” the document says.

Rules regulating headwater tributary streams has changed since the EIS was done in 2000. According to the Statement, the Clean Water Act has added protections for ephemeral streams. The new analysis includes streams not included in the original EIS. The alignment of the Berkeley Springs Bypass is generally in the same location except for the deviations which account for the new impacts to Stream 1 (795 feet) at the southern end of the bypass, and Stream 24 (599 feet) at the northern end of the bypass.

The floodplain impacts were originally calculated to be zero acres. Now 14.82 acres are expected to be impacted by the bypass. The reevaluated study said that federal floodplain management regulations have changed.

“The difference in floodplain impacts is due to the variance in available data and methods utilized in 2000 versus those used for the Reevaluation of the Berkeley Springs Bypass,” the analysis states.

Floodplain impacts are identified as the 6.60 acres at the southern portion parallel to the existing U.S. 522 roadway, the 2.27 acres parallel to Martinsburg Road, and the 5.59 acres near the northern connection of the bypass and existing U.S. 522.

The 5.59 acres of floodplain impacts affect with Warm Springs Run.

Noise levels from the bypass will impact five sites instead of one, under the new study.

According to the Statement, “[a]fter the required right of way was established and applied to the impacts, three sites were identified as relocations.”

The designation of “relocation” governs how property owners are compensated for land or structures being taken for a highway project.

One structure is an outbuilding on Dakota Lane, another is a residential structure about 40 feet from Johnsons Mill Road and about 50 feet from U.S. 522, and another residential and heavily wooded lot is on Sherill Lane about 2,280 feet from Fairview Road.

The analysis determined there were no changes and no impacts to the community impacts regarding environmental justice (minority and low-income populations), to community cohesion (less truck traffic reduces traffic volume), but “some residents outside the Town of Bath will be divided by the new bypass, and although access will be provided, it may be less convenient than at present,” the Statement said.

There were no changes and no impacts to air quality, threatened and endangered species, historic and archaeological resources, public lands and section 4(f) and 6(f), or hazardous waste sites.

Town of Bath Planning Commission president, Rebecca MacLeod said in a letter to Facemire that it was her understanding that community leaders would be able to review a draft and provide comments of the statement before it was approved and released.

MacLeod said in her letter that in reviewing the reevaluation “a wetland of significance” on the southern end of the project was omitted. She said that other residents who read the document will have questions as well.

“As your colleagues can tell you, the community is engaged and concerned, and all the prior public workshops had a large attendance. I believe it would be in the best interest of the project to convene a public meeting to discuss your findings,” MacLeod wrote.

After reviewing the reevaluation, The Morgan Messenger requested additional information from the DOH, including if the agency would hold a public meeting to present the statement, and answer questions about it.

Facemire’s answer was “the WVDOH has held two recent public meetings –the first was held April 18, 2018 and the second was held February 28, 2019 to present the updated information.”

The full environmental reevaluation document can be accessed online from the project page of the West Virginia Department of Transportation at:

https://transportation.wv.gov/highways/engineering/comment/US522BerkeleySpringsBypass/Pages/default.aspx

One of the bypass impact maps included in an updated Environmental Impact Study by the West Virginia Division of Highways shows floodplain effects along the bypass corridor.

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