Federal highway officials gave new meaning to the phrase "distorting reality" when claiming last week that a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is not required for the so-called "hybrid route" for the proposed Interstate 69 highway through Southwestern Indiana.
John Baxter, Indiana Division Administrator for the Federal Highway Administration, told the Evansville Courier & Press that the agency "is not anticipating that" when asked if it would be creating a supplemental document for heretofore unstudied potential environmental impacts from the new-terrain route.
The hybrid route includes 10 miles of new highway that cross the White River, which Andy Knott from the Hoosier Environmental Council told the paper would require its own Environmental Impact Statement if it were a stand-alone project.
The bold-faced sections below in the "Supplemental environmental impact statements" section of the "Code of Federal Regulations" that govern federal highway projects like Interstates would seem to bear directly on the hybrid route.
§771.130 Supplemental environmental impact statements.
a. A draft EIS, final EIS, or supplemental EIS may be supplemented at any time. An EIS shall be supplemented whenever the Administration determines that:
1. Changes to the proposed action would result in significant environmental impacts that were not evaluated in the EIS; or
2. New information or circumstances relevant to environmental concerns and bearings on the proposed action or its impacts would result in significant environmental impacts not evaluated in the EIS.
b. However, a supplemental EIS will not be necessary where:
1. The changes to the proposed action, new information, or new circumstances result in a lessening of adverse environmental impacts evaluated in the EIS without causing other environmental impacts that are significant and were not evaluated in the EIS; or
2. The Administration decides to approve an alternative fully evaluated in an approved final EIS but not identified as the preferred alternative. In such a case, a revised ROD shall be prepared and circulated in accordance with §771.127(b).
c. Where the Administration is uncertain of the significance of the new impacts, the applicant will develop appropriate environmental studies or, if the Administration deems appropriate, an EA to assess the impacts of the changes, new information, or new circumstances. If, based upon the studies, the Administration determines that a supplemental EIS is not necessary, the Administration shall so indicate in the project file.
d. A supplement is to be developed using the same process and format (i.e., draft EIS, final EIS, and ROD) as an original EIS, except that scoping is not required.
e. A supplemental draft EIS may be necessary for UMTA major urban mass transportation investments if there is a substantial change in the level of detail on project impacts during project planning and development. The supplement will address site-specific impacts and refined cost estimates that have been developed since the original draft EIS.
f. In some cases, a supplemental EIS may be required to address issues of limited scope, such as the extent of proposed mitigation or the evaluation of location or design variations for a limited portion of the overall project. Where this is the case, the preparation of a supplemental EIS shall not necessarily:
1. Prevent the granting of new approvals;
2. Require the withdrawal of previous approvals; or
3. Require the suspension of project activities; for any activity not directly affected by the supplement. If the changes in question are of such magnitude to require a reassessment of the entire action, or more than a limited portion of the overall action, the Administration shall suspend any activities which would have an adverse environmental impact or limit the choice of reasonable alternatives, until the supplemental EIS is completed.