By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Monday, July 20, 2009

A federal environmental review of the City’s portion of the

Meadowcreek Parkway

is on hold until the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) can submit additional material. An official with the Army Corps of Engineers has sent a letter to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) requesting a new map for

McIntire Road Extended

.

“We have concluded that the project plans we are currently reviewing do not show a terminus at the southern end of McIntire Road [Extended],” reads a July 16, 2009 letter from J. Robert Hume III, the Chief of the Regulatory Branch for the Corps’ Norfolk District. “In order for us to continue our evaluation of the proposed McIntire Road Extension, the work must be a single and complete project with logical termini.”

The Corps has jurisdiction over construction projects that affect the nation’s watershed. VDOT had asked the Army Corps of Engineers for permission for an unnamed tributary of Schenk’s Branch to be re-routed through a box culvert. The letter states that the Corps’ review cannot proceed unless engineers can see the full scope of the work.

“Please submit additional plans, including quantifications of any additional impacts to waters of the United States, necessary to complete the project to a logical ending point,” the letter reads.

The drawings submitted to the Corps assume that the McIntire Road Extended ends at the northern end of the Parkway’s

grade-separated interchange

with the 250 Bypass. Both the road and the interchange are considered by VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to be two separate projects. The

County’s portion

, which is well under construction, is considered to be a third.  Each has a separate funding source. The County’s portion has been funded through Albemarle’s share of state secondary road funds and the City’s portion has been paid for through urban funds from the state. The proposed interchange is funded by a federal earmark from former Senator John Warner.

Parkway opponents have long alleged that the parkway was segmented into three portions in order to avoid a full environmental review from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). In February, an attorney for the

Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park

sent a letter to the FHWA that argued this case.

“In my opinion, the FHWA has unlawfully constrained the scope of the [Environmental Assessment] and Section 4(f) evaluation by failing to evaluate McIntire Road Extended and the Interchange as part of a single, federalized project,” wrote attorney Andrea Ferster.  Section 4(f) refers to a portion of the Department of Transportation Act that requires environmental assessments for road constructions projects that use public parkland.




Download Ferster’s letter to the Federal Highway Administration

Former City Council Candidate

Peter Kleeman

has consistently appeared before Council to point out the project’s drawings are clear evidence that none of the projects can exist independently.  He said the letter from the Corps could issue in a new era of federal scrutiny.

“This position will change the way the parkway/interchange projects move forward and may in fact re-federalize the entire project,” wrote Kleeman in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Mark Haviland, Chief of Public Affairs for the Corps’ Norfolk District, said the letter has been taken out of context by opponents. He said the Corps’ routinely asks for more information from applicants.

“Sometimes when applications are sent, we require additional information so we can do an accurate evaluation,” Haviland said in an interview. He said opponents of the parkway should not read too much into the Corps’ letter. “Nowhere in [the letter] do we talk about where the terminus needs to terminate. All along VDOT has said there are one or two possibilities. It either ends at a proposed interchange being handled by FHWA, or it would end at Route 250. From the Corp’s perspective, what we have to do is find out where the road is going to end.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is also involved with a review of what steps will be required to mitigate the effects the parkway will have on

McIntire Park

, which has been determined as a historic resource. This process is required in

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act

. The Corps will issue a memorandum of understanding as soon as one is ready.  The FHWA is the lead federal agency for the Section 106 process required for the interchange project.

Lou Hatter, a spokesman for VDOT’s Culpeper District, said the agency is still formulating a response to the letter. He said while the Corps has raised a valid question, he is confident the project will not be halted as a result.

“We don’t see this as a significant obstacle,” Hatter told Charlottesville Tomorrow.

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