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How ‘Freeway Revolts’ Helped Create the People’s Environmental Law

In the summer of 1969 a banner hung over a set of condemned homes in what was then the predominantly black and brown Brookland neighborhood in Washington, D.C. It read, “White man’s roads through black men’s homes.”

Earlier in the year, the District attempted to condemn the houses to make space for a proposed freeway. The plans proposed a 10-lane freeway, a behemoth of a project that would divide the nation’s capital end-to-end and sever iconic Black neighborhoods like Shaw and the U Street Corridor from the rest of the city.

Today, Brookland is not home to an interstate. The community’s protest forced the government to cancel its construction plans. And the activists’ efforts helped spur the passage of a law that gives all people the right to weigh in on projects that affect their communities—a right that is now under attack from the Trump administration and its allies.

Residents taking a stand in Brookland were the latest participants in the “Freeway Revolts,” a multi-decade effort to force federal planners to consider the impacts of large development projects on communities and ecosystems. During and after World War II, 6 million Black people moved from the South to cities in the Midwest and California, drawn by employment opportunities and driven by the violence and poverty of the Jim Crow South. Following this demographic shift and growth in cities across the United States, planners rewrote municipal zoning ordinances and separated residential, commercial, and industrial development. These policies promoted urban sprawl and white flight, which fed the culture of automobile dependency. 

The Freeway Revolts formed alliances across lines of race and socioeconomic status. In D.C., wealthy white residents of Takoma Park and Georgetown allied with middle-class black and brown residents in Brookland. In Seattle, the Black Panthers aligned with the Sierra Club in opposition to highway widening proposals. In San Francisco, Latinx communities joined hands with white residents to protest the Central Freeway’s devastation to homes and communities. These various communities realized how disruptive and destructive these large urban planning projects are to neighborhoods and communities.

Activists demonstrate against proposed freeway construction in San Francisco in 1960. // IMAGE COURTESY OF SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER

Lacking a voice in the development process, residents and community members in cities across the country used tactics that ranged from picketing, petitioning and leafleting to directly occupying facilities. In each case, however, the central message was the same: Government should not ransack homes, divide areas, and introduce new sources of smog and noise pollution without the consent of those affected.

In many places, the protests forced city governments to change their plans, or even led to the removal of freeways that had already been built. At the federal level, the protests helped inspire a law that ensures the people get to weigh in on projects that affect their health, homes, and neighborhoods: the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This law has become one of the most important tools to protect communities and our environment—and now, it’s under attack by the Trump administration.

In 1969, after over a decade of relentless pressure and public activism, Congress passed NEPA in a nearly unanimous vote. The aim of the law was to create a national environmental policy that equally weighed environmental impacts and the voices of communities when federal agencies developed infrastructure projects. NEPA was the first law to require the federal government to conduct an environmental impact study (EIS) when embarking on a project. It required the federal government to tell the public what it wanted to develop and establish time for communities to comment and offer environmentally friendlier or less disruptive alternatives; alternatives the government must consider under NEPA.

Community leaders heightened the national consciousness of the effects of environmental degradation on communities throughout the second half of the 20th century. // PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION

Over the years, it is communities of color—whose efforts made NEPA possible—that have invoked the law when seeking justice. After all, more than half of the people living less than two miles from a toxic waste site in the United States are people of color. Children of color are disproportionately more likely to face the dangerous health effects of lead poisoning. Indigenous communities like the Navajo Nation have been face-to-face with toxic water thanks to the legacy of uranium mining in the Southwest. In the Northern Mariana Islands, indigenous and low-income U.S. citizens are using NEPA to compel the U.S. Navy to consider the effects that artillery, rockets and bombardment will have on their tropical homeland and sacred sites. According to Cinta Kaipat, a resident of the island Saipan, NEPA allows communities to “fight this fight without firing a shot. The military will sit up and hear our voices.”

Right now, communities of color are using NEPA to challenge the Keystone XL pipeline, President Trump’s illegal border wall, waste incinerators in Puerto Rico, intrusive transit plans in Los Angeles, and pollution from the KCI Airport in Kansas City. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana successfully used NEPA to thwart Trump administration’s plans to reopen coal-mining leases on public lands. Ill-conceived development along the I-70 Corridor near Denver stopped thanks to NEPA. It is community voices, not those of polluting and profit-driven corporations with armies of well-paid litigators and lobbyists that are most likely to be excluded or ignored in the decision-making process. And it is their voices that can help stop further division and destruction in our environments if they are made apart of the planning process.

Put simply, the National Environmental Policy Act is a tool to help uplift the people’s environmental voice. That’s why it’s no wonder that the Trump administration and its allies want to stifle it, either by exempting certain proposals from oversight, limiting the length of public comment periods or eliminating public comment altogether.

Communities in the Northern Mariana Islands are using NEPA to challenge the U.S. Navy’s plan to conduct live-fire training on the island of Pågan. // PHOTO COURTESY OF DAN LIN

The spirit that drove communities of color and neighborhood residents throughout the U.S. to hang banners, picket, sit in, and stand up in the 1950s and 1960s is alive today. Even though several communities of color across the nation have been displaced and burdened by pollution because of freeway development projects in the 1960s, NEPA helps to fight against exclusionary and environmentally disruptive planning processes. 

As we fight to end environmental racism, we cannot allow the Trump administration and its allies in Congress to retrench the people’s tools for access to justice. We cannot allow them to limit public comments and continue to shut communities out of the NEPA process. It is through direct action and community engagement that NEPA came to be; safeguarding it gives people more power to be a part of the decisions that determine what happens in their communities.
This article is written by Teju Adisa-Farrar Raul Garcia and was originally published by Earthjustice. 

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Alaskans Emphatically Tell the Army Corps “No Pebble Mine”

More than 900 people gathered to oppose the Pebble Mine yesterday in Anchorage, Alaska. Hundreds rallied outside the Dena’ina convention center where inside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held the last of several public hearings on its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Pebble Mine—a gold and copper mine proposed at the headwaters of the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.

“Salmon Forever, Pebble Never” was just one of many anti-Pebble chants heard at the rally, which energized around 500 people outside the convention center demonstrating to protect Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine—and the Corps’ reckless rush to permit it.

Inside, indigenous subsistence users, commercial fishermen, sportsmen, scientists, conservationists, business owners, bear-lovers, and concerned citizens testified against both the behemoth Pebble Mine and the Corps’ woefully inadequate draft EIS.

People spoke from the heart, beseeching the Corps to prioritize their communities, culture, lives, and livelihoods over the profits of a foreign mining company.

“Our people have been saying ‘no Pebble Mine’ for over a decade,” said Second Chief for Curyung Tribal Council and Director of Natural Resources for Bristol Bay Native Association Gayla Hoseth. “We are sick and tired of the greed and the lies. Yet we are here again to comment on an inadequate draft EIS based on Pebble’s incomplete application to build a mine in our pristine environment, because we want to protect this last wild salmon run on earth as it exists today, for this generation and for future generations.”

Many commenters echoed that sentiment, noting our obligation to protect Bristol Bay for future generations.

“I’m a fifth-generation commercial fisherman,” said Emily Taylor, a 15-year-old who fishes in the Naknek-Kvichak district every summer. “And the permit I now hold once belonged to my great, great grandmother.” She wants to pass the fishing tradition onto her grandchildren but fears the Pebble Mine will destroy their heritage. “Do you think they’ll ask me about this day? What I did to stop it? I don’t want that to become my reality,” she said, adding that her people had been fighting to stop Pebble her entire life.

Numerous commenters focused on the inadequacies of the draft EIS.

Daniel Schindler, Ph.D. and Professor of Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, described the draft DEIS as junk: “The reality is, if you put garbage into [an EIS] process, you get garbage out of a process. And what we’re looking at here with the Draft EIS is one that distinctly underestimates risks to fish, to water, and to people. It is junk. The draft EIS should be thrown out.”

Other scientists described the draft EIS in similarly negative terms, going so far as to use descriptors such as “lies,” “fantasy,” “fiction,” and “slipshod.”

The Army Corps of Engineers did not allow everyone to testify publicly and closed public comment at 8 pm sharp. The clock ran out on dozens of people still waiting to speak—including two small children who skipped dinner to wait hours for their turn. Instead of listening to everyone who showed up to speak, the Corps directed the public to provide written comments online.

This is just another—albeit egregious—example of how the Corps is unnecessarily fast-tracking the permitting process at the expense of interested stakeholders. The process is broken and the fix is in.

The Corps is accepting public comment until May 30th. Make your voice heard today.

I attended the hearing and gave the following testimony:

My name is Taryn Kiekow Heimer and I am here on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council and our more than 3 million members and activists.

In the last 5 years alone, tailings dams have failed across Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Mexico, killing hundreds of people and leaving a dead zone of polluted water.

Mining companies and regulators alike promised it would never happen. We’re now hearing the same empty promises from Pebble.

The law requires the Army Corps to do more than simply take Pebble at its word.

But the DEIS fails to do so—just like all those failed tailings dams across the world.

First, the DEIS fails to meet the basic requirements of NEPA and the Clean Water Act by fast-tracking the permitting process; by underestimating the long-term risks to people, water, wildlife and fish; by discounting Pebble’s unprecedented water treatment plan; and by ignoring impacts associated with fully developing the Pebble Mine, including the mining district in Bristol Bay that Pebble would ignite.
Second, the DEIS fails the people of Bristol Bay—who overwhelmingly oppose the Pebble Mine. It’s ignored numerous requests to pause the permitting process and extend the public comment period. People in Bristol Bay provided heart-felt testimony asking the Corps to prioritize their communities, culture, lives and livelihoods over the Pebble Mine. How can the Corps make a positive public interest determination when the public overwhelming rejects the mine?
Third, the DEIS fails to ask the biggest question of all: whether Pebble’s mine plan is even feasible. Pebble hasn’t submitted an economic feasibility study like all other mining companies have done before permitting. When the Corps asked for this information in an RFI, Pebble said it couldn’t disclose it without running afoul of Canadian Securities regulations prohibiting investor fraud and misrepresentation. Richard Borden, a 23-year veteran from Rio Tinto with experience in permitting more than 50 mines, did the math and found not only that Pebble, as proposed, is economically infeasible but that is has a net present value of negative $3 billion. Why is this project even going through permitting? A project that isn’t feasible by definition does not meet the LEDPA standard.
Finally, the DEIS fails to address what concerns people the most—a catastrophic dam failure.

Think of what a Pebble Mine disaster would do to Bristol Bay—what it would do to the communities who rely on subsistence fishing, the $1.5 billion annual commercial fishery that supports 14,000 jobs, and the people, businesses, and wildlife that rely on the prolific salmon runs.

We cannot afford to fail in Bristol Bay. I urge you to do the right thing. Listen to the people who would be impacted most, revise this DEIS, and ultimately deny Pebble’s permit application.

Thank you.
Taryn Keikow Heimer is Deputy Director of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) Marine Mammal Protection Project. 

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Dominion’s James River Transmission Project

More than 400 years of American history, including the first permanent English settlement in North America, were placed at critical risk in 2017 after the Army Corps of Engineers began construction on a nearly 7-mile-long stretch of massive 295-foot transmission towers within sight of Historic Jamestown and Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia.

Dominion Virginia Power, a for-profit energy company sponsoring the project, maintained that the state needed the energy from the power lines without which the regions could face rolling blackouts. However, the transmission project was met with considerable skepticism from local officials as well as other federal agencies who criticized the project on the basis that transmission construction would have adverse impacts on historically significant land and endangered species within the area.

Moreover, research from a 2015 report from the National Parks Conservation Association and Princeton Energy Research International suggested that Dominion’s underlying case for building massive transmission towers was based on faulty analysis – Dominion’s transmission line would provide more than four times the needed grid capacity.

The Army Corps of Engineers nonetheless pushed forward with the project, carrying out analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Passed into law with bipartisan support in 1969, NEPA requires federal agencies to complete an environmental review identifying and publicly disclosing any potential environmental, public health, or cultural impacts a project may have before a decision is made and the relevant permits are issued.

There was only one problem – the Army Corps of Engineers decided to carry out an Environmental Assessment (EA) instead of a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Whereas EAs are prepared for smaller projects and in cases where the impacts are uncertain, agencies are required to carry out an EIS for major projects like power plants and interstate highways.

Choosing to ignore tens of thousands of comments from concerned citizens as well as sharp criticism from other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Army Corps of Engineers concluded that the project would have no major impacts and that a detailed EIS was unnecessary. The Corps approved the project in 2017.

However, in a landmark court decision in March 2019, a federal appeals court found that the Army Corps of Engineers approval of Dominion’s transmission project to be in violation of NEPA on the basis that the permit was based on private research, lacked transparency and public engagement, and that the Corps  should have conducted an EIS.

Judge David Tatel described the significance of the area in detail, recounting Capt. John Smith’s voyage into the Chesapeake Bay and up the James River. “These journeys came to symbolize our nation’s founding and to serve as an equally important reminder of one of the darkest episodes in our history — the settlers’ devastation of Native American populations,” he wrote.
[1] “Appellate Court Says Corps Should Have Prepared EIS On James River Transmission Line.” National Parks Traveler. March 1, 2019. Available at:
[2] Natl. Parks Cons. Assoc. v. Todd Semonite, et al. No. 18-5179 (D.C. Circ. 2019). Available at:
https://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/87FABC162438AE4B852583B000549984/$file/18-5179.pdf
[3] “Court decision could doom already built Va. power line.” E&E News. March 1, 2019. Available at:
https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060122819
[4] “5 Myths and 5 Facts About Dominion’s Ill-Conceived Transmission Line Plan at Historic Jamestown.” National Parks Conservation Association. October 21, 2016. Available at:
https://www.npca.org/articles/1346-5-myths-and-5-facts-about-dominion-s-ill-conceived-transmission-line-plan

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Tribes Challenge Final Permit For Toxic Open‐Pit Copper Mine On Sacred Land

TUSCON, AZ (April 10, 2019)  — The Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe filed a complaint in U.S. District Court today challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to issue Rosemont Copper Company a permit to commence construction of a massive open-pit copper mine on the eastern flank of the Santa Rita Mountains in the Cienega Creek watershed. The Tribes are represented by Earthjustice, an environmental legal organization.

The creek and its tributaries have supported the tribes and their ancestors since time immemorial. Cienega Creek and its upstream tributaries, including Davidson Canyon, Barrel Canyon and Empire Gulch, contain some of the highest quality streams and wetland ecosystems in Arizona.

Rosemont plans to excavate a mile-wide by half-mile deep open pit mine in Barrel Canyon, discharging an estimated 1.9 billion tons of waste rock onto adjacent public lands. These activities would destroy 18 miles of streams that are protected by the Clean Water Act. None of these activities can occur without a permit from the Corps.

Male jaguar photographed by motion-detection wildlife cameras in the Santa Rita Mountains on August 31, 2015 as part of a Citizen Science jaguar monitoring project conducted by the University of Arizona, in coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is the same jaguar that has been repeatedly photographed in the Santa Rita Mountains.

“One of the primary reasons that the Pascua Yaqui Tribe opposes this mine is its impacts upon our water.” said Chairman Robert Valencia of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. “The Pascua Yaqui Tribe knows that water is precious in the desert and precious to all the plants and animals that depend upon it. The few short-term jobs that this mine will create are not worth the destruction that we will have to live with forever.”

For over eight years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pima County, and an overwhelming majority of the public joined the Tribes in opposing the permit for the mine, citing unacceptable adverse impacts on the ecosystems and severe and irreparable harm to tribal cultural resources.

“As a result of the Hopi people’s long history in the Southwest, we understand the importance of water,” said Vice Chairman Clark W. Tenakhongva of the Hopi Tribe. “Culturally any body of water is something precious and sacred and it would be culturally irresponsible for us to support any activity that would jeopardize a resource so essential to all living beings and something on which we all depend.”

Due to the unacceptable adverse impacts of the mine on aquatic and cultural resources, the Corps’ Los Angeles District Office refused to grant a permit for the mine in 2016. The Corps’ South Pacific Division, however, reversed course and granted Rosemont the permit earlier last month.

“The Corps’ South Pacific Division has provided no reasoned basis for reversing course and abruptly granting Rosemont a 404 permit,” said Earthjustice attorney Stu Gillespie. “EPA and the Corps’ District Office concluded that the proposed permit would violate the Clean Water Act and cause unacceptable harm to the public interest. The Corps cannot sweep these concerns under the rug in its rush to permit this devastating project.”

Rosemont plans to begin excavating and removing ancestral villages and burial sites in the near future. Its plans include the use of backhoe trenches, mechanical stripping, and shovel stripping to remove all cultural artifacts from the mine site, including human remains, funerary objects, sacred items, and objects of cultural patrimony.

“The proposed mine would forever destroy our ancestor’s burial sites, and structures they inhabited in the Santa Rita Mountains,” said Austin Nunez, chairman of the St. Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “The mine would also erode evidence of our ancestors’ prior occupation in that area and destroy the plant life and watershed in the area. The long term environmental consequences that will come from the Rosemont Mine project development far outweigh the short-term financial gains sought by the company and its shareholders.”

The complaint states that in issuing the permit, the Corps violated the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The Tribes are represented by Stuart C. Gillespie and Caitlin Miller, attorneys for Earthjustice.

Read the legal document.

About the Pascua Yaqui Tribe: The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is a federally recognized tribe of approximately 22,000 enrolled members with a reservation southwest of Tucson, Arizona.

About the Hopi Tribe: The Hopi Tribe is a federally recognized Indian tribe located in northeastern Arizona with approximately 14,475 members. The Hopi reservation occupies part of Coconino and Navajo counties, encompasses more than 1.5 million acres, and comprises twelve villages situated on three mesas.

About the Tohono O’odham Nation: The Tohono O’odham Nation is a federally recognized tribe of approximately 35,000 enrolled members, with more than 2.8 million acres of reservation lands in Southern and Central Arizona.

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Bastrop Senior Housing Project

Built in 1927, Bastrop High School was a sprawling, two-story, brick Tudor Revival structure located just outside downtown Bastrop, Louisiana.

After serving as an education center for six decades, the building fell into disrepair. Wind and rains from Hurricane Katrina caused further deterioration of the historic structure.

In 2009, a number of partners including the Department of Housing and Urban Development raised funds to convert the building into 76 affordable-housing units for elderly individuals.

Using the NEPA process, HUD identified numerous issues with the historic building that, if left unaddressed, could have endangered the lives of the building’s future occupants; these included structural instability, lead-based paint, asbestos, and lead-contaminated water pipes.

The final project design incorporated solutions to these problems, ensuring the safety of the senior citizens who would soon call the building home while preserving and restoring the building’s historic features such as its original redbrick exterior.

The project also benefited the community by converting a public nuisance into a facility that locals believe will contribute greatly to the town’s downtown redevelopment plan and attract investors to the area, which lost its major employer, International Paper, in 2009.
[1] “Bastrop County could benefit from HUD boost to flood recovery fund.” Austin American Statesman. August 24, 2017. Available at:

[2] “Developer plans senior affordable housing project for Hutto.” WCLife, February 26, 2016. Available at:
https://www.wclife.org/blog/view/developer-plans-senior-affordable-housing-project-for-hutto

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Paris Pike

A scenic road connecting Lexington and Paris, the beauty of Kentucky’s Paris Pike was historically overshadowed by safety hazards and congestion. The original two-lane rural highway extended over 13.5 miles of rolling hills dotted with 29 of the states’ oldest farms, but suffered from a lack of a hard shoulder and passing or turning lanes, a deadly combination that gave the road a significantly higher accident fatality rate than the average two-lane road.

Since the 1960s, numerous efforts to improve the stretch of road were met with staunch resistance from local groups. In the early 1990s a proposal from the Kentucky Transportation Center (KTC) to build a standard four-lane highway was once again met with opposition from local communities concerned about irreparable harm to the corridor’s history and natural landscape.

After KTC released its final design plans for the expanded highway, local opponents sued, taking the state transportation agency to court for violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Opponents successfully argued for an injunction on the grounds that the agency did not properly solicit public input on the project – a key component of the review process under NEPA. The judge ordered KTC to return to the planning process and seek a workable alternative to the highway that would meet demands of both parties.

This time, KTC performed extensive historic research and robust public outreach, holding hearings for community members to cooperatively design a road that fit the aesthetics and contours of the land while minimizing environmental impacts.

The $70 million project, completed in 2003, has received nationally recognized design award, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation cited Paris Pike as a project that “celebrates the spirit of place instead of obliterating it.”

The new design consists of two independent two-lane highways, one northbound and the other southbound, and an added shoulder to increase safety. Existing trees, fences, and stonewalls were either preserved or moved and restored to their original condition.

Environmental improvements include the relocation of more than 3,000 new trees and shrubs, designation of wetland areas, natural wooden guardrails, grass instead of grave shoulders, three miles of stone fence, and the preservation of the natural environment within the median. Additionally, a historic farmhouse was turned into a visitors’ center, generating tourism dollars for a town that would have lost money if Paris Pike were merely expanded. “

“It has been an immensely successful project. It preserved aesthetic integrity while doing what it was supposed to do: increase safety and capacity. It has significantly improved the corridor,” said Cumberland Sierra Club Chapter Chair, Lane Boldman.

Local resident Hank Graddy said going through the NEPA process was essential, noting, “It brought people and ideas to the table that otherwise would not have been there.” Paris Pike represents a true compromise facilitated by the NEPA process—road expansion without accompanying aesthetic and natural destruction.
[1] “Public Partnership – Kentucky’s Paris Pike Reconstruction Project.” AASHTO Quarterly Magazine, Vol. 78, No 2. 1999. Available at:
[2] “The Paris to Lexington Road Reconstruction Project.” University of Kentucky, KTC. September 2001. Available at:
http://www.e-archives.ky.gov/pubs/transportation/tc_rpt/ktc_02_02_fr79_96_1f.pdf
[3] “ASLA Announces Its 2002 Professional Awards.” AASLA. April 2, 2002. Available at:
https://www.asla.org/meetings/awards/awds02/parislexroad.html
[4] “The Road to Better Transportation Projects.” Sierra Club and NRDC. 2002. Available at:
https://vault.sierraclub.org/sprawl/nepa/sprawl_report.pdf

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John Redmond Dam and Reservoir

Built by the US Army Corps of Engineers after the Great Flood of 1951 inundated parts of downtown Burlington and Strawn with as much as 30 feet of water, the John Redmond Dam and Reservoir in eastern Kansas was completed in 1964 to provide flood control, water conservation, recreation, and water supply.

After a severe drought hit the region in 2012 and 2013 and lake levels dropped alarmingly low, however, it became clear that 50 years of sediment build up was beginning to to seriously impact the dam’s operations – according to the Kansas Water Office, sediment was accumulating 80% faster than anticipated. In total, the lake had lost nearly 40% of its storage capacity due to sedimentation.

In order to meet local water supply requirements, the Corps of Engineers began examining the feasibility of a dredging and restoration project under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

At its most basic level, NEPA requires federal agencies to carry out a review process designed to identify any major environmental, socio-economic, or public health impacts a federal project may have before construction can begin. It also required the Corps of Engineers to conduct public outreach to communities that stood to be impacted by the project as well as consult with the Kansas Water Office and other relevant state agencies.

When completing the (EIS), the Corps discovered that the agency’s proposed action – raising the conservation pool – would have the indirect result of flooding hundreds of acres of nearby wildlife refuge areas, posing a risk to both protected wildlife and deer and turkey hunting, and destroy one of the only local boat ramps to the lake.

Using the NEPA process, the Corps was able to work with the state to replace both the ramp and wildlife areas and minimize environmental impacts, while still successfully dredging more than 3 million cubic feet of sediment from the reservoir.

That sediment was in turn placed in five containment ponds on nearby land, two on federally owned land and three on land owned by local farmers – the environmental impact study had already determined that the environmental impacts of the five containment ponds would be negligible and would not contain concentrated levels of ant contaminants.

Completed in 2016, the dredging project is the first of a multi-phase project that the Corps plans to carry out in the next decade. Unfortunately, additional work reducing sediment in the watershed above John Redmond will be necessary to ensure future water supply demand is met through the year 2045 in the Neosho River basin.

John Redmond continues to serve as the municipal water source for 19 downstream municipalities and six industrial users, including Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant.

[1] “Characterization and Mapping of Sediment Thickness and Pattern in John Redmond Reservoir, Coffey County, Kansas.” Kansas Biological Survey. December 2014. Available at:
[2] “2013 Final Supplement to the Final Environmental Impact Statement: John Redmond Dam and Reservoir Dredging Initiative.” S. Army Corps of Engineers. February 2013. Available at: https://kwo.ks.gov/docs/default-source/project-pages/rpt_final_sfes_final_reallocation_johnredmond.pdf?sfvrsn=c0c98614_6
[3] “John Redmond Reservoir Dredging Project.” Presentation by Matt Unruh and Bryan Taylor, Kansas Water Office and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Available at: https://kwo.ks.gov/docs/default-source/2016-governor’s-water-conference-presentations/taylor-ekren-unruh_john-redmond-reservoir-dredging-project.pdf?sfvrsn=2
[4] “John Redmond Dredging.” Kansas Water Office. Accessed 12/9/2017. Available at: https://kwo.ks.gov/projects/john-redmond-dredging
[5] “2016 John Redmond Reservoir Dredging Project in Kansas.” Kansas Water Office. May 2, 2017. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLPjHCrtPWs
[6] “John Redmond Reservoir Phase 1 dredging complete.” Kansas Farmer, November 23, 2016. Available at: https://www.farmprogress.com/story-john-redmond-reservoir-phase-1-dredging-complete-9-149743

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US-65 Southeast Connector (MLK Extension)

Map of the US-65 Southeast Connector // Credit: City of Des Moines In the early 2000s, traffic studies warned that existing roads would be unable to serve projected 2030 travel demand in the southeast Des Moines metropolitan area – without investment in the corridor, future travelers would likely have to divert to a longer and less efficient route around the city The city, in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration and Iowa Department of Transportation, used the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to solicit community input and identify a range of proposals that would accommodate the projected increases in traffic in Southeast Des Moines. The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) identified a multi-lane arterial road connecting Martin Luther King Parkway with U.S. Route 65 across the Des Moines river as the least disruptive project alternative. Largely as a result of the public input process, the EIS also noted several previously-unidentified hazardous material sites in the construction areas as well as concern that the original design could have led to damage to a nearby levee. Other improvements implemented as a result of the NEPA process included improved wetlands mitigation and better efforts to engage Spanish-speaking communities affected by the project. Construction on the Southeast Connector, which consists of multiple project phases, began in 2012 and is expected to be completed in 2012-2023. [1] “Record of Decision: Southeast Connector Polk County, Iowa.” US Department of Transportation, FHWA. May 21, 2010. Available at: http://www.seconnector.com/PDFs/SEConnectorRecordofDecisionMay2010.pdf [2] “Environmental Impact Statement: Southeast Connector Polk County, Iowa.” US Department of Transportation, FHWA. January 2010. Available at:http://www.seconnector.com/PDFs/CondensedSEConnectorFEIS-January2010.pdf [3] About the Southeast Connector. City of Des Moines. Accessed February 10. 2019. Available at: http://www.seconnector.com/faq.stm [4] “Des Moines SE Connector Bridge Grand Opening.” RGD Planning and Design. December 22, 2010. Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFnxPVLGcME
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Relocation of Agricultural Irradiator from Pa’ina to Kunia

Schematic of Kunia’s irradiator, used to treat fruits and vegetables. The facility is located in central Oahu where it is safe from earthquakes. When Kīlauea volcano erupted in Hawaii last spring, Oahu native Darryn Ng couldn’t help but think about potential repercussions in his own neighborhood a few islands away. The volcano was closely followed by a magnitude 6.9 earthquake, one of hundreds to jolt the Hawaiian archipelago in the months to come. Darryn lives near the Honolulu International Airport in Oahu. A flat area where land meets sea, his home turf is prone to tsunami, storm surge, and earthquakes, among other natural disasters. Such environment in jeopardy changes the way Darryn lives.“People check the news everyday. Oh, five point something, that’s okay…when it’s six point something, then I think we really might have a tsunami warning. That’s what we’re all thinking of right now.” The risk-prone area made Darryn and others like him concerned when in 2005, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)  approved plans for a fruit company to construct an irradiation site — without environmental review or local input. Paʻina Hawaii, LLC elected to build the plant, which would have used a Cobalt-60 irradiator to kill plant pests on produce, directly next to the airport and around three miles from Darryn’s home. The proposed site, just eight feet above sea level and in a tsunami evacuation zone, was susceptible to airplane strikes, earthquakes, and storm surge, as well as potential terrorist targets. These factors, combined with the dangerous radioactive materials used, posed serious and unnecessary hazards to public health and safety. Much was at stake, especially given that the area is bustling with public transport, incoming container ships, residential and commercial buildings, and recreational activity, Darryn explained. In response, a local environmental group Concerned Citizens of Honolulu, to which Darryn is member, challenged the NRC. They demanded comprehensive environmental review required by National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one of a number of federal laws that work to both protect the public and enable development projects to go forward without causing undue harm. This included the consideration of alternate locations and technologies that the company could use to kill fruit flies without the threat of nuclear catastrophe. Earthjustice lawyer David Henkin at the time argued that through complying with NEPA, the NRC would “realize the folly of placing up to a million curies of radioactive material at a site that is vulnerable to so many potential disasters, both natural and human-caused.” The NRC in 2010 determined that its swift approval of the irradiation site violated NEPA, moved to prepare an environmental assessment for public review, and required Pa’ina Hawaii to disclose more information about the facility to the public. Eventually, a revised assessment clearly showed that an alternative site could serve the same purpose for the company with substantially less risk to the public. The irradiation facility was constructed instead in at an agricultural research center in Kunia, an area considered safe from earthquakes, aircraft strikes, and other environmental risks. Pa’ina Hawaii was soon able to export irradiated Hawaiian produce while minimizing danger to local citizens. Eight years after the environmental review launched, Darryn says he and his family have been better off without construction of the irradiation facility. “Things would definitely have been different,” Darryn said. “Through Sand Island and Ala Moana, there’s a lot of surfing contests and canoe contests…the radiation center is not [on the shoreline] and it’s a good thing.” “The majority of us go to the beach. The ocean is part of our heritage and culture,” he said, explaining that the location of the facility would have blocked off an area well-traversed by him and his family. “We go out from a channel from Kalihi stream, and go down along the Reef Runway to go fishing,” Darryn said, referring to waterways adjacent to the proposed irradiator site. “If the site was there, we probably wouldn’t be going fishing there.” Darryn said that the close proximity of the irradiation site to both the airport and the ocean put locals on edge at back in 2005 — and would have even more so if it was there today. A sense a relieve pervaded the Oahu native when asked how he felt today about the success of the legal challenge through NEPA. “The neighborhood didn’t want it, because of the radiation. Even before [the volcano] there were a lot of earthquakes and the possibility of tsunamis. So it’s good that it’s not there, especially by the shoreline.” [1] “Final Supplement to the Environmental Assessment Related to the Proposed Pa’ina Hawaii, LLC Underwater Irradiator in Honolulu, Hawaii.” US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs. March 2011. Available at:https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1103/ML110390325.pdf [2] “Irradiator helps keep patients home.” The Garden Island. May 6, 2018. Available at:https://www.thegardenisland.com/2018/05/06/hawaii-news/irradiator-helps-keep-patients-home/ [3] Under New Management, ‘Aina Le‘a Is Given Yet Another Chance by LUC.” Environmental Hawai’i. Vol 20, No 4. October 2009. Available at:http://www.environment-hawaii.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/October-2009.pdf
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Statewide Mine Closures and Reclamation

Like many other territories across the American West during the mid-to-late-19th century, Arizona was subject to heavy prospecting in search of gold, silver, copper and other valuable minerals and ores. Years later in the 20th century, deposits of both asbestos and uranium were also identified and mined around the Grand Canyon from the 1950s through the mid-1980s.

Unfortunately, many of these abandoned mines ended presented significant hazards to public health including loose rock falls, unsecured vertical mine shafts with high radon concentrations, and leaching of toxic metals and asbestos. Still worse, many of these Arizona mines were located in National Parks and ecologically important wilderness areas, and thus they proposed environmental damages in addition to human health and safety impacts.

In 2010, the National Parks Service (NPS) selected 139 high priority Arizona mines located in Coronado National Memorial, Grand Canyon National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and Saguaro National Park for permanent closure and reclamation.

During the planning phase, NPS was required to carry out an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This review process is designed to ensure federal agencies identify and publicly disclose any potential environmental, public health, or economic impacts a proposed action may have.

Using the NEPA process, NPS solicited input from surrounding communities and tailored specific mine closure activities for each feature in the four parks. The Environmental Assessment also identified specific mitigation measures that would be taken to protect several endangered species, most notably the long-nosed bat.
[1] “Abandoned Mine Lands Closure Plan and Environmental Assessment available for public review and comment.” Grand Canyon News. February 16, 2010.
[2] “Proposal to Close Abandoned Mine Lands (AMLs) within Coronado National Memorial, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Saguaro National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park.” U.S. Department of the Interior. April 12, 2010. https://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/arizona/Documents/Biol_Opin/090452_NPSMineClosure.pdf
[3] “Proposal to Close Abandoned Mine Lands Environmental Assessment.” National Park Service. https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=24740 

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