[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 92 (Wednesday, May 13, 2015)]
[Notices]
[Pages 27296-27298]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-11556]


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DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

Department of the Army, Corps of Engineers


Intent To Prepare a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact 
Statement (Supplement 2) for the Mississippi River Ship Channel, Gulf 
to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, General Reevaluation Study

AGENCY: Department of the Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DoD.

ACTION: Notice of Intent.

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SUMMARY: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), New Orleans District 
intends to prepare a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement 
(SEIS), to be integrated with a General Reevaluation Report (GRR), for 
the Mississippi River Ship Channel, Gulf to Baton Rouge, Louisiana 
Project. The GRR and SEIS will investigate deepening and maintaining 
the Mississippi River Ship Channel from 45 feet deep to as much as 50 
feet deep.

DATES: A public scoping meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 26, 2015 
in Belle Chasse, LA. An open house will be held at 6:00 p.m. followed 
by the scoping meeting at 6:30 p.m. A second public scoping meeting 
will be held Thursday morning, May 28, 2015 in New Orleans, LA. An open 
house will be held at 9 a.m. followed by the scoping meeting at 9:30 
a.m. A third public scoping meeting will be held Thursday evening, May 
28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, LA. An open house will be held at 6:00 p.m. 
followed by the scoping meeting at 6:30 p.m.

ADDRESSES: The scoping meeting and open house on Tuesday, May 26 will 
be held at the Belle Chasse Branch Library, 8442 Highway 23, Belle 
Chasse, LA 70037. The scoping meeting and open house in the morning of 
Thursday, May 28 will be held at Corps of Engineers District Office in 
the District Assembly Room, 7400 Leake Ave, New Orleans, LA 70118. The 
scoping meeting and open house in the evening of Thursday, May 28 will 
be held at Louisiana State Police Training Academy, 7901 Independence 
Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70806.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Questions about the public scoping 
meeting, the GRR and SEIS should be addressed to: Mr. Richard Boe or 
Mr. Steve Roberts, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental 
Compliance Branch, P.O. Box 60267, New Orleans, LA 70160-0267, by email 
to richard.e.boe@usace.army.mil or steve.w.roberts@usace.army.mil, or 
by telephone at (504) 862-1505 or (504) 862-2517.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

1. Project Background and Authorization.

    The 1981 Feasibility Study entitled ``Deep-Draft Access to the 
Ports of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana'' (1981 Feasibility 
Study) was authorized by Section 2 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 
1945, (Pub. L. 79-14), which combined several existing deep-draft 
projects on the Mississippi River and modified them to provide new 
navigation channel dimensions. The 1981 Feasibility Study, which 
included an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), recommended deepening 
the Mississippi River's navigation channel to a 55-foot depth from 
Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico. A Chief of Engineers Report was 
completed in April 1983, and a Record of Decision was signed on 
December 23, 1986. The Mississippi River Ship Channel, Gulf to Baton 
Rouge, Louisiana project was authorized for construction by Section 101 
of the 1985 Supplemental Appropriations Act (Pub. L. 99-88).
    The authorized plan provides for a navigation channel with a 55-
foot depth over a 750-foot bottom width from the Gulf of Mexico to 
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and a turning basin at the head of the deepened 
channel in Baton Rouge. Authorization also included deepening the 
existing 35 feet deep by 1,500 feet wide channel at the New Orleans 
harbor to 40 feet, providing river training works in South Pass and 
Pass a Loutre, and creating wetlands and upland habitat with dredged 
material along Southwest Pass.
    Phase I of the Mississippi River Ship Channel, Gulf to Baton Rouge, 
LA Project consisted of a 45-foot channel from the Gulf of Mexico to 
river mile 181 near Donaldsonville, Louisiana, and was completed in 
December 1987. Phase II consisted of the remainder of the 45 foot 
channel from river mile 181 to Baton Rouge, and was completed in 
December 1994. Phase III of the Project was identified as the deepening 
of the entire channel to 55 feet from the Gulf of Mexico to Baton 
Rouge. The Non-Federal Sponsor, the State of Louisiana, Department of 
Transportation and Development, has requested that an incremental phase 
of deepening the entire length of the channel to 50 feet be considered. 
A final phase of deepening the channel to 55 feet may be considered in 
the future. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 
amended the Water Resources and Development Act of 1986, to increase 
the Federal threshold for full

[[Page 27297]]

Federal channel maintenance responsibilities from 45 feet to 50 feet 
deep.
    The General Reevaluation Report will identify the depth that 
creates the greatest net benefits up to a 50 foot channel in order to 
proceed to implementation and to phase the remaining work accordingly. 
A report released by the Institute of Water Resources (IWR) in June 
2012 evaluated the preparedness of U.S. ports to accommodate Post-
Panamax size vessels. The Panama Canal is being enlarged to accommodate 
vessels that draft 50 feet (Post-Panamax vessels) and the enlarged 
waterway is expected to be completed in 2016. The IWR report found that 
these vessels currently call at U.S. ports and will dominate the world 
fleet in the future. Post-Panamax vessels will call in increasing 
numbers at U.S. ports that can accommodate them. Currently, Mississippi 
River ports cannot accommodate these vessels. There may be economic 
justification in expanding port projects to accommodate post-Panamax 
vessels. The ports located along the lower Mississippi River, being the 
dominant ports for the export of grains from the U.S., will likely play 
a key role in meeting these future needs if they are ready with a post-
Panamax sized channel.

2. Proposed Action

    The purpose of the GRR and SEIS is to identify the depth that 
creates the greatest net benefits up to a depth of 50 feet in order to 
implement the deepening the Mississippi River channel from the current 
depth of 45 feet. An evaluation of population growth trends, trade 
forecasts and examination of the current port capacities shows that 
there is very likely economic justification for deepening the channel. 
This GRR and SEIS will evaluate existing conditions, alternative 
designs, and provide environmental analysis of anticipated impacts 
associated with dredging and disposal alternatives. The handling of 
dredged material generated during construction, the engineering design 
of dredged material disposal areas, and several other aspects of the 
Project, that were evaluated in the 1981 Feasibility Report and EIS, 
will be updated as appropriate.

3. Alternatives

    An evaluation of alternatives, including a ``no action'' 
alternative will be included. In the SEIS, the ``no action'' 
alternative will be the continued operation and maintenance of the 45 
feet deep Mississippi River deep-draft navigation channel from Baton 
Rouge, LA to the Gulf of Mexico. Other alternatives will be determined 
through scoping, but are anticipated to include an alternative of a 48 
feet deep channel and an alternative of a 50 feet deep channel. The 
plan with the highest net benefits (the difference between 
transportation cost savings and project costs) will be identified as 
the recommended plan. Previous evaluations of alternative dredging 
methods, dredged material handling, and disposal alternatives will also 
be updated and/or re-evaluated as appropriate.

4. Scoping

    The Council on Environmental Quality Regulations for implementing 
the procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act 
(NEPA) relating to ``Scoping'' as set forth in at 40 CFR 1501.7 require 
an early and open process for determining the scope of the issues to be 
addressed in an EIS or SEIS and for identifying significant issues 
related to the proposed action. The public will be involved in the 
scoping and evaluation process through advertisements, notices, and 
other means. Federal, state and local agencies, and other interested 
groups will also be involved. Meetings to address discrete issues or 
parts or functions of the study may be held. All parties are invited to 
participate in the scoping process by identifying any additional 
concerns on issues, studies needed, alternatives, procedures, and other 
matters related to the scope of the SEIS.
    A. The Corps will provide additional notification of the times and 
locations of the public scoping meetings through newspaper 
advertisements and other means (see DATES). Following short 
presentations at the scoping meetings, verbal and written comments on 
the scope of the SEIS will be accepted. A transcript of verbal comments 
will be generated to ensure accuracy. Comments will also be accepted 
via email or postal mail.
    B. Issues. Issues that have been identified include, but are not 
limited to, the level of existing and forecasted vessel traffic, 
changes in socio-economic conditions since the 1981 Feasibility Report 
and EIS, evaluation of direct and indirect social and cultural impacts 
on affected communities and the appropriate and practicable mitigation 
measures to address those impacts, a re-evaluation of salt water 
intrusion on municipal drinking water supply, and re-evaluation of 
reasonable dredging and disposal alternatives and associated impacts. 
This non-exhaustive list of issues is intended to facilitate public 
comment on the scope of the SEIS. Concurrent with the NEPA process, the 
Corps will ensure compliance with all applicable environmental laws, 
regulations, and executive orders governing issues such as Federally-
listed threatened and endangered species, essential fish habitats, 
health and safety, general environmental concerns, wetlands and other 
aquatic resources, historic properties, fish and wildlife values, flood 
hazards, navigation, recreation, water quality, and environmental 
justice. In selecting a recommended plan, the Corps will also consider 
issues identified and comments made throughout scoping, public 
involvement, and interagency coordination. The Corps expects to better 
define the issues of concern and the methods that will be used to 
evaluate those issues through the scoping process.
    C. Environmental Review and Consultation. The proposed action 
(recommended plan) will undergo an evaluation for compliance with all 
applicable guidelines pursuant to Section 404(b) of the Clean Water 
Act. This review will include a detailed reevaluation of all 
practicable alternatives as it relates to the handling and disposal of 
the dredged material. The Corps will develop and provide information on 
the resources to be impacted and the proposed mitigation measures as it 
relates to each of the alternatives. Although the Corps does not plan 
to invite any Federal agencies to be cooperating agencies, input and 
critical information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other Federal, state, and local 
agencies is expected.

5. Public Scoping Meeting Special Accommodations

    The public scoping meeting places will be physically accessible to 
people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or 
other auxiliary aids should be directed to Steve Roberts, (504) 862-
2517 (voice), or email at steve.w.roberts@usace.army.mil at least 5 
business days prior to the meeting dates.

6. Estimated Date of Draft SEIS Availability

    It is estimated that the draft SEIS will be available to the public 
for review and comment in December 2016. At least one public hearing 
will be held at that time, during which the public will be provided the 
opportunity to comment on the SEIS before it becomes final.


[[Page 27298]]


    Dated: May 5, 2015.
Austin T. Appleton,
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army, Acting District Commander.
[FR Doc. 2015-11556 Filed 5-12-15; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3720-58-P