I-66 Opposition Comments

“I read Mr. Brugger’s article with keen interest. I am interested in both the environmental and economic aspects of this proposed project. As a person interested in the economic realities of the proposed project, perhaps he could encourage the individual who indicated a fairly optimistic 600% plus return on investment on construction and operation of the proposed highway to break down those gains on a line-item basis and detail who receives what portion of the gains which are realized. Certainly, those who own properties adjacent to highway interchanges stand to realize substantial profits from sales of these properties (bought cheaply in the past) in the future. Then there will be the proposed development of those properties. It would be of great interest to know to whom those properties belong to currently and compare this against a list of Rep. Roger’s campaign contributors past and present, and those who have ties to the local and county political power structures. Here in the Delaware River Basin where I live, there has been a prolonged effort to dredge the Delaware River from the ocean to Philadelphia and perhaps beyond. An initial economic study by the US Army Corps of Engineers suggested that there would be a certain necessary level of economic benefit for every dollar spent on the project – a necessary return on expenditure to justify the project.  Subsequent analysis by environmental groups forced a re-analysis of this rosy economic picture by the USACE and resulted in a substantial restating of the return in expenditure in the downward direction – such that the project was no longer viable from an economic basis…Perhaps this sort of re-evaluation should begin with this project. A crucial initial study performed by the University of Kentucky during the 1990’s examined the premises of economic benefits and viability of the project. The first report was suppressed and the purported negative outcomes were never allowed to be examined by the public. Who caused this and why. Would this have resulted in the scrapping of the project at that point in time?? Secondly, there was a rather large acrimonious public debate which took place in the US House of Representatives between Rep. Rogers and Rep. Baesler during the 1990’s as to where the path of the proposed project would be blazed. Rep. Baesler proposed use of existing I-64. Rep. Rogers used his position and political power to squash this idea and write into the early legislation the highway corridor which is currently being investigated. Perhaps former Rep. Baesler would be interested in elaborating on this discussion and why the current route was chosen despite being less than 50 miles north in many places from existing interstate I-40 to the south and Interstate I-64 to the north.  This sort of interstate highway density is not warranted by the population it purports to serve or it’s apparent lack of connectivity and destinations. Interestingly, the economic analyst who promoted the passage of proposed I-66 through London seemingly failed to mention that the passage of I-75 (a major North-South interstate) has not provided the London/Corbin area with major economic benefits. What basis is being used to suggest that a second interstate will be any better? The tourist areas of the Lake Cumberland, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, and Daniel Boone National Forest are adequately served by the exiting highway systems present. There is little evidence that the proposed highway segments approved or planned will lift those people and areas impacted by poverty out of their current state. Some of this problem is geography. The Environmental Impact Statement for the Pikeville segment suggested this in it’s economic analysis when it discussed the lack of available suitable lands upon which to build factories or other employment-generating industries and businesses – much of this related to topography. However, given the progression of mountain-top removals for strip-mining purposes, this may be lack of suitable topography is changing. Additionally, I find it unlikely that the true costs of habitat and species destruction during construction and operation of the proposed project have been adequately calculated, nor the potentials for serious soil, groundwater, and surface water impacts in the event of a release of hazardous materials from a truck travelling along this proposed highway. Perhaps harkening back to the spill of hydrofluoric acid from a tanker in the Berea area which resulted in serious large scale contamination and environmental impacts to the area about the spill and closure of the highway for what I recall was multiple weeks and millions of dollars spent have not been considered. The potentials for environmental damages from the release of a chlorinated solvent, such as TCE, in the karst are immense. Clay liners and other containments have little to no effect in retarding these types of materials from their migration into the sources of many people’s domestic water supplies from wells. In addition, these contaminants are among the most long-lived as source material and breakdown products.  Not only would there be immediate environmental consequences for such a spill on a local and regional aquifer scale, but this material would be transported long distances in the karst aquifer system and would also linger deep in the fractured limestones in which the karst is developed. Then there is the chronic contamination which would only be magnified by an increase of traffic through the area. This comes from the tiny amounts of soot, oil, grease, rubber and metals which all of our vehicles leave behind as they drive through an area.  Bowling Green has seen the impacts to karst from the effects of these materials being washed off their highways and into Bypass Cave. A masters thesis on this matter is on file at the WKU library if you are interested. These sorts of materials will also be washed off the proposed highway segment into the karst with no treatment possible short of collecting all the dust and run-off rain water and sending it all to a central wastewater treatment plant for proper treatment and disposal… Of course all this ends up as contaminated sediment and water going to Lake Cumberland. This comes from the karst systems providing transport of the waters and contaminants from the highways segment on the karst to the springs which feed many of the area’s rivers and streams – such as the Rockcastle River and Buck Creek. Public meetings by the KTC have already indicated the identification of one unique (not rare, not endangered, but unique to science – rarer than rare) specie during the course of the karst environmental investigation. Potentially there are other rare and endangered species present which would suffer irrepairable damage from short and long term effects from the construction and operation of this proposed project. Both Buck Creek and the Rockcastle river are very important to the sensitive aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems present in the areas under consideration.  A HAZMAT spill in the karst would be potentially devastating to the surface streams in the area.  These stream and rivers and their surroundings are home to many endangered species. The KTC has failed to justify the sufficiency or effectiveness of their karst investigation past those karst features which are physically identifiable from the surface. Many karst systems have little or no surface expression. The most sensitive technologies such as seismic imaging, microgravitytraverses and grids, or 3-D resistivity traverses and grids have not been used to identify karst which has no surface expression either as a programmatic element of the karst investigation or in any meaningful extent in the proposed highway corridor. In addition, no justification has been made by the KTC or the FHWA as to why these technologies are not being employed to determine whether these hidden features exist. These criticisms were communicated the the KTC during the public comment period following their November 2004 public meeting, with no response from the KTC despite repeated prompting for such during the past 15 months. Their initial response was that they were not required to respond within any certain time frame. They have since failed to even acknowledge repeated attempts at communication. The KTC has contended that no study of completely water filled and inaccessible karst features was necessary – to which I respond how does one know until one performs the investigation. There are wider implications to this highway construction boom in the Somerset Kentucky area. Two additional bypass segments are being planned or built at this writing. Both cross substantial karst, but the Southwestern Bypass crosses karst ranging from highly dissected margin karst to sinkhole plain karst and proposes to connect to the Northern Bypass, which was potentially illegally segmented from the London to Somerset Segment. Both the Northern and Southwestern Bypasses were allowed environmental approval through the application of Environmental Assessments, rather than an Environmental Impact Statement. Poorly publicized and potentially closed door meetings by Federal and State Agencies determined that these two individual segments required the much less stringent Environmental Assessment. But, tellingly, the combined segments of bypass are greater in length than the proposed segment length of the London to Somerset Segment. Additionally, there is substantially more karst present in these two segments than in the whole proposed London to Somerset segment. The Southwestern Bypass EA is terribly deficient with respect to an adequate karst biologic and hydrologic investigation. Once the two segments were proposed to intersect, no additional discussion was carried out to determine whether an EIS was now neccesary for the combined greater segment. An argument has been made that the Southwestern Bypass was in the works long before the Northern Bypass and that they are separate projects with separate pots of money. However, they physically connect and are greater in length as a combined whole than the segment that is having an EIS performed. It begs a few questions which may never be answered given the powerful combination of politics and powerful state agencies already shown to have corruption problems locally and statewide.

Fact: The EA document for the Northern Bypass suggests that it was studied as a stand-alone Somerset Bypass segment, but would be integrated into the proposed London to Somerset I-66 segment if the EIS was approved.
Fact: The Southwestern Bypass Environmental Assessment was quickly and quietly re-written with a new route alternative in order to connect to the proposed Northern Bypass with little opportunity for either public hearings or debates following the announcement of the proposed Northern Bypass.
Fact: The KTC District 8 office “lost” my technical commentary on the deficiencies of the Southwestern Bypass EA which would have to be responded to for purposes of a Finding Of No Significant Impact or Record of Decision regarding the lack of sufficient data regarding the karst in the suddenly revised selected route alternative of the southwestern Bypass.

The District supposedly withdrew and resubmitted their official correspondence transcript to reflect the re-inclusion of the criticism which I sent. They sent me an apology e-mail (how often does this happen?)which I believe i still retain and indicated that since I sent the commentary directly to the KTC Dist 8 project manager and not his administrative liason (Cathi Blair), that the PM forgot to get it into the official transcript. Reading the finding or record of decision later, it was not apparent that the comments ever made it to the appropriate personnel for response. One of them specifically pointed out the lack of karst hydrologic and biologic research proportional to the amount of karst present. Another pointed out that since the project was being funded with federal money, that if water could be proven to flow into Lake Cumberland (a federal flood control impoundment) from the karst, that the water within and the karst itself would possibly be subject to the much more stringent provisions and application of the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act, rather than Kentucky’s rather laxly enforced groundwater rules and regulations. This was never addressed such that I could determine. This same criticism was leveled at the Northern Bypass EA and was never addressed…. This criticism has it’s roots in eastern US water law…. I’m not a NEPA attorney, but I think this has sound basis for further questioning. The argument that the two segments connect as a greater whole and that the two EAs were released for public commentary on the same date has spawned little environmental interest from the legal standpoint, yet should be investigated. Prior court cases have determined that highway subdivision and segmentation in order to minimize potential negative environmental impact conclusion outcomes which might cause the project to be cancelled are illegal. However this challenge has not been raised yet. This leads to yet another interesting paradox. A political and non-profit set of foundations have been established to promote the construction and operation of I-66. These groups appear to be well-funded and organized. They compete against a small group of environmental activists and concerned citizens who have little to no funding and often work as individuals in their concerns and objections to the proposed highway projects. Yet one more concern follows this discussion. The current state of the National Environmental Policy Act, its guidelines, rules, regulations and laws makes it so complex that the ordinary un-funded citizen group cannot mount any substantial challenge to conclusions in enormous documents like an EIS or even smaller documents like an EA without expensive legal representation.  Yet the governmental agencies charged with performing these studies have the benefit of knowledgeable legal staff who do nothing but work on NEPA and Endangered  Species Act issues. They do so with funding from our tax dollars, while those who object to the project do not. These experienced legal staff are often challenged to justify the legality of a certain action or determination. This can take the form of nullification or obfuscation of the objections of the citizens who take the time to make their voice heard through arbitrary determinations as to whether or not the comment was presented in correct form or referenced the appropriate statute, law, or regulation – regardless of substantiative and appropriate content or inquiry. One often sees official response to objections which have environmental basis as “Irrelevant”, because the objection was not state with appropriate reference to chapter and verse of the applicable statutes And then, there is the thorny subject of the mitigation of environmental impact which cannot be denied or written off, or buried in an appendix. An interesting example would be found in the Pikeville EIS. In the document, it was stated that in order to construct the highway along the proposed selected route alternative, that the only stream which contained rare and endangered species and which was unaffected by acid mine drainage or similar degradation was going to be impacted in order to construct the highway. Since this impact was recognized, a solution to deal with and prevent as much as possible this damage (called mitigation) was required. No solution was found to mitigate the damage to the stream at the point of impact or the effects which it would cause to the ecosystem downstream. You would think that this would mean that you have to back up and re-think whether or not the project should continue. You’d be wrong. The way the laws are written, since the impact couldn’t be avoided where it was to take place, and the actions had to take place where they did or they couldn’t accomplish the project, the route was not required to be modified to avoid the impact. Now one would think that if you can avoid the impact and it is significant and impacts rare and endangered species that you might have to say that there was a finding of significant impact and the no-build option would have to be chosen. You’d be wrong again…. Instead, mitigation is being proposed to be performed at a completely different, un-related location, to a stream poisoned by acid mine drainage and devoid of the endangered species which will be negatively impacted by the highway. Something is fundamentally wrong with this sort of solution. Partly this is because often, just like wetlands mitigation, the mitigation strategy fails to accomplish what is required by law and is poorly monitored and enforced. The impact to the endangered species occurs as planned anyway and thus money is spent to no benefit of the environment, but does benefit the companies which provide these sorts of services. Secondly, no amount of mitigation will bring back a species once its gone and if the fix fails and the impact occurs before the fix is proven to solve the problem. The emperor appears to have no clothes, but they are widely praised in the fashion magazines for their tailoring, cut and style. The photos bear this out. The NEPA system operates, but has been mutated through work-arounds, case law and lack of knowledgable representation for those who object to the actions being contemplated. The system is being used by the few to benefit the few and to the detriment of the relatively unspoiled and unique way of life and environmental surroundings of the people of southeastern Kentucky. Saying it benefits the many in any substantial way is inappropriate, and cannot be proven, while there are many cogent arguments to be made to the contrary; citing potentially irrepairable damage to landscape, environment, historic resources and lifestyle. And BTW in passing, I have driven the segment of existing I-66 from Washington DC to Front Royal VA… IMO All it is is a short cut to I-81. I find it ironic that those who first conceived of I-66 in ?Oklahoma or Kansas have abandoned the idea as economically unsound and unworkable, while Rep. Rogers has made it part of his re-election campaign. Sounds like an intelligent design if you ask me.

Mark Turner
MS. PG
Environmental Consultant
Karst Specialist
Life Member, National Speleological Society
Wilmington, Delaware”

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Author: kick66

Alliance against the wasteful I-66 construction in Kentucky.

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