NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT (NEPA)/LOCALLY PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE (LPA)
Frequently Asked Questions
This document has been prepared to provide clarity on the scoping process overall, explain the decisions made during the scoping process, and describe the overall environmental review and decision-making processes in relation to the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts Program and the regional decision-making process.
Is the process for the development of the Bottineau Transitway as complex as it has been presented by Hennepin County?
Transitway project development is complicated because several processes overlap: environmental review, alternatives analysis, and New Starts evaluation. These processes are largely independent of one another, but inter-related in important ways. Given the cost and significance of a potential Bottineau Transitway, it is important that the region analyzes the project through the environmental review, alternatives analysis, and New Starts processes.
Environmental review is being conducted by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA), and the Metropolitan Council in accordance with federal and state regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) is being prepared for the Bottineau Transitway. The Draft EIS process requires a detailed assessment of a broad range of significant social, economic, and environmental impacts anticipated as a result of alterations to the natural and built environment, such as those proposed for the Bottineau Transitway. The Draft EIS process starts with Scoping and concludes with identification of a preferred alternative, which are discussed more below.
Alternatives analysis is being led by the HCRRA in accordance with regional transportation policies as well as Federal Transit Administration (FTA) guidance. The goal of this process is to assemble the information and public input needed to support the recommendation of a locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the Bottineau Transitway for adoption by the Metropolitan Council into the region’s long-range transportation plan, the Transportation Policy Plan (TPP). Consensus among land use authorities and local decision-makers, as expressed through city council and regional railroad authority resolutions, is a crucial factor considered by Metropolitan Council in the adoption of an LPA into the TPP. Public input is an important factor considered by local decision-makers and the Metropolitan Council.
The New Starts Program is the federal capital funding program for major transit projects like the Bottineau Transitway. The region is considering applying for funding through the FTA’s New Starts Program to build the Bottineau Transitway. The New Starts Program has several evaluation criteria and the Bottineau Transitway needs to score well in all of them to be considered for New Starts Program funding. The Bottineau Transitway is competing with similar projects around the country for this limited federal funding.
What is the Scoping Booklet and what does it tell us?
The Scoping Booklet is the first document published in the state environmental impact statement (EIS) review process and it proposes the foundational information for the Draft EIS. The key topics in the Scoping Booklet include: the history of the Bottineau Transitway project, why the project is needed, how decisions are made, the range of alternatives that have been considered to date, alternatives proposed to be studied further in the process, issues to be addressed in the EIS process, and the Draft EIS schedule and key decision points. The Scoping Booklet will also describe how the public can get involved in the process and provide input on the scoping decisions. The Scoping Booklet is provided in a newsletter-style “reader friendly” format with supplementary technical documents available on request.
Publication of the Scoping Booklet is the starting point in the EIS process. The EIS process consists of the Scoping Phase, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) phase, followed by the Final EIS and Record of Decision.
Why is it important to provide the Scoping Booklet for public review?
The Scoping Booklet initiates the first formal public review and comment period of the EIS process. The deadline for public comments will be at least 30 days after the Scoping Booklet is published. (For the Bottineau Transitway Draft EIS, the scoping period extends through February 17, 2012.) During this review time, several public meetings (“Scoping Meetings”) will be held to discuss the information in the Scoping Booklet. The Scoping Meetings will be held at several locations throughout the project corridor. The meeting schedule has been published in the Scoping Booklet. The public is an important partner in the environmental review process and the Scoping Booklet and Scoping Meetings provide project information in a concise, understandable format to support the public’s review.
What decisions are made in Scoping? Who makes these decisions?
Four decisions are made as part of Scoping:
- Establish why transit improvements should be studied and what the proposed project should accomplish. This is called the project purpose and need.
- Establish the alternatives to be studied in the Draft EIS.
- Establish the potential, significant impacts and benefits of the alternatives.
- Establish the methods that will be used to analyze the potential impacts and benefits.
For the Bottineau Transitway, Scoping decisions will be made by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA) in consultation with the Metropolitan Council and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). HCRRA will base these decisions on public input and recommendations from the project’s technical advisory committee, the community advisory committee, and the policy advisory committee. These scoping decisions, the public input received during the scoping period, and responses to the public’s comments will be summarized in the Scoping Decision Document.
How can decisions be made during Scoping without the detailed analysis complete?
Goals of the Scoping process include establishing the project purpose and need, a list of alignment and mode alternatives, a list of impacts and benefits to be studied in the Draft EIS, and the methods that will be used to analyze the impacts and the benefits. Ongoing scoping level technical analysis is being conducted throughout the scoping period focused on identifying comparative differences between alternatives. Public scoping input and scoping level technical analysis will be presented to study committees which may result in decisions that inform the content of the Draft EIS.
Can new alternatives be proposed during Scoping?
One of the decisions made during scoping is which alternatives will be studied in the Draft EIS. The Scoping Booklet summarizes the alternatives that have been considered in the past and proposes the alternatives to be studied in more detail. In commenting on the Scoping Booklet, an agency or the public can propose new or different alternatives to study in the Draft EIS. However, an alternative proposed by agencies or the public during Scoping will not advance for further study in the Draft EIS if it does not meet the project purpose and need; would not be competitive for federal funding; would result in significant, adverse impacts while not effectively providing benefits both locally and regionally; or is strongly opposed by the public and stakeholder agencies.
In commenting on the Scoping Booklet, agencies or the public can also propose and provide rationale for eliminating one or more of the alternatives proposed for further study in the Draft EIS.
What is the difference between the alternatives identified at the end of the Scoping process for further study in the Draft EIS and the locally preferred alternative?
The locally preferred alternative (LPA) will be one of the alternatives identified and studied in the Draft EIS. The identification of an LPA is a critical step in pursuing federal funding. Based on input and technical analysis completed during the Scoping process, HCRRA and the corridor cities will make an LPA recommendation to the Metropolitan Council. The Metropolitan Council will then consider amending the region’s long-range transportation plan, called the Transportation Policy Plan (TPP), to identify the Bottineau Transitway LPA.
The LPA selection process does not replace or override the requirement to fully examine alternatives and determine the adverse impacts that must be avoided or mitigated under the federal and state environmental review process. While there is a provision in the federal environmental review process to identify an LPA in the Draft EIS, the LPA identification and inclusion in the region’s long-range transportation plan does not dictate that the LPA be the only “Build Alternative” studied in the Draft EIS.
Why does an LPA need to be identified before the EIS analysis has been completed?
The concise answer is to save time and resources. The FTA New Starts process requires adoption of an LPA into the region’s long-range transportation plan (TPP) before the FTA will consider granting permission to a project to enter preliminary engineering (PE). If the Bottineau Transitway is anticipated to perform well according to FTA New Starts Program criteria, the region will apply for permission to enter PE in 2013, concurrent with completion of the Draft EIS. Waiting for the Draft EIS to be complete before selecting the LPA could extend the project development schedule by six to twelve months, increasing the project cost – and weakening its competitiveness for federal funding -- due to inflation.