It’s been more than a month since I sent a tweet to @CityArchRiver complaining that their website’s comment form was broken after attempting to submit a comment. The message I attempted to send was as follows:
The JNEM EA received 114 comments concerning the scoping of the project. Why and how were over 60% of the comments deemed “out of scope”? Wasn’t the point of that step in the EA process to question the scope of the project?
Given the deafening silence that has been CityArchRiver’s past public engagement, I was not expecting any comment from them. Happily, however, they not only responded to my comment, but they 1) promised to fix the comment form on their website, 2) forwarded my comment to the National Park Service, and 3) if I did not receive a reply from the NPS, to let them know. Fantastic!
Thus, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve submitted two comments to City Arch River and the National Park Service and have received two responses from Tom Bradley, NPS Superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. What follows below is a verbatim copy of all the responses sent and received.
Dear Mr. Markwort:
We received your inquiry regarding the National Park Service public comment analysis, and comments considered outside the scope of our environmental assessment.
You are correct that the purpose of the comment period was to help gather input on the ‘scope’ of the environmental assessment, but it is important to keep in mind that the broader CAR2015 initiative involves non-National Park Service projects as well as National Park Service projects on a longer-term planning horizon than October 2015. As explained in the scoping newsletter distributed in July 2011 (available at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/jeff_ea_newsletter), the current National Park Service environmental assessment is focused only on those projects within the National Park Service boundary on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River that are ready for decision-making. Proposed changes to transportation infrastructure near the Park, in Kiener Plaza, on Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, and the riverfront are not subject to National Park Service decision-making, and are therefore not considered as part of the proposed actions and are outside the scope of our environmental assessment.
Comments on the emerald ash borer are relevant to another compliance process the National Park Service has undertaken, and are also considered outside the scope of this current environmental assessment. However, please be assured that comments submitted on project elements considered outside the scope of the current National Park Service environmental assessment have been or will be shared for consideration with others, as appropriate.
We hope this clarifies the labeling of certain comments as ‘outside scope’, and thank you for your interest in Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. If you have any additional questions regarding the National Park Service environmental assessment process, please contact us directly.
Thomas A. Bradley
A few days later, I sent a follow-up comment.
I’ve reread the Environmental Assessment Public Scoping Newsletter and have another question which I hope you or Mr. Bradley can clarify.
My question: Who is responsible for the lid over I-70, the National Park Service or MoDOT?
In the “Objectives” section under “Visitor Use and Experiece”, the first objective reads as follows:Ensure that revitalization of the park improves connections between the city and the park and from the city and the park to the river, while enhancing the visitor experience and reducing the impacts from adjacent transportation systems.
Obviously, one the proposals to meet this objective is a lid that crosses over I-70 filling in the gap between Market and Chestnut. The “Scope of the NPS EA” section mentions this directly:
The major components of the project currently under consideration include:
- a landscaped “lid” over the depressed lanes of I-70 between the Gateway Arch grounds and downtown;
However, immediately below the bulleted list that included the above quote is the following:In addition to this NPS EA, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) are initiating a concurrent EA to assess the effects of proposed changes to I-70 and Memorial Drive, including the potential for construction of a landscape lid over I-70 as well as changes to the freeway’s ramp system.
Changes to Memorial Drive, the freeway’s ramp system, and Washington Ave could have profound influence on the connections between the city and the park and on the visitor experience, one of the NPS’s objectives. But ignoring the proposed changes to I-70 and and Washington Ave for the time being, who is responsible for the lid over I-70, the National Park Service or MoDOT?
If the National Park Service is claiming jurisdiction over the I-70 lid, I also have a follow-up question. Many, many comments submitted to the NPS concerning the scope of the environmental assessment questioned the need for a lid over I-70. If the lid over I-70 is considered the responsibility or a partial responsibility of the NPS, how does the NPS justify classifying these comments as “out of scope”.
Just like clockwork, Tom Bradley responded again one week later.
Dear Mr. Markwort:
In response to your question regarding the proposed “lid” over Interstate 70, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has responsibility and is preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) on the impacts of this proposed undertaking. Although the “lid” would be constructed by MoDOT within an easement on National Park Service property, it would be considered MoDOT’s action and therefore not within the scope of the NPS EA. However, the NPS EA will in fact assess the impacts of the proposed “lid” on the visitor experience, but only in the context of the proposed west entrance, revitalized Luther Ely Smith Square, and connectivity with the Old Courthouse. Once again, thank you for your interest in the planning process.
Thomas A. Bradley
I have a lot to say about the contents of these letters and the direction City Arch River has taken, but that will have to wait for another day.