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Concerns about historic Southern Pacific railroad shops and other archaeological resources delayed the environmental review process for the future regional transportation center proposed for the Railyards.
A complicated review process also caused delays as federal, state and city planners worked out plans to mitigate environmental and other impacts expected from the future depot, which will connect with the historic Sacramento Valley Station.
Under the National Environmental Protection Act, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) conducted a review of the city's proposal to prevent or offset impacts to wildlife, air and water quality, historic buildings, building occupants and train passengers during construction and operation of the new depot and relocated train tracks. The environmental assessment was approved Aug. 31.
Federal agencies conducted concurrent reviews of the environmental assessment, so the process took less time than it would have in the past, according to the FHWA. The process took more than a year, compared to the average three to five years a linear review usually takes.
Still, the number of agencies involved, the lack of experience some agencies have with environmental reviews and the fact that conducting concurrent environmental reviews is a new procedure postponed a decision the city expected months ago, said Ellie Buford, the city's principal planner for the environmental review of Sacramento's intermodal facility.
"Last-minute" concerns arose over potential impacts to the built environment's historic properties, archaeological resources which are listed or eligible to be listed with the National Register of Historic Places, she said.
Those properties are the Central Shops Historic District, which dates back as far as 1868; the Sixth Street levee, built from 1852 to 1880; the Sacramento Southern Pacific Railroad Station District, built in 1925; and the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, a national landmark now known as Sacramento Valley Station, built in 1925.
The train tracks will be moved closer to the Central Shops. The future depot will be located between the Central Shops and the Sacramento Valley Station.
The agencies involved want to make sure the four historic properties are protected, according to the FHWA. In the last stage of the review process, a document was added that spells out additional ways these resources will be protected.
According to the new document, known as the Intermodal Built Environment Treatment Plan, the city must assess the current condition of historic properties and monitor the foundation of the historic central railroad shops during construction and operation of the train tracks and depot for vibration and stability. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) must determine the protective measures required for each phase of the intermodal project.
A detection of harmful vibrations could lead to a stop in construction and the need to use alternative construction methods, as well as reinforce the buildings, Buford said.
The worst-scenario is that vibrational impacts from driving pilings into the ground and other construction could cause the shops to fall down, said Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Stephen Mikesell, who has been heavily involved in the environmental review on behalf of the California Office of Historic Preservation.
While that is "highly unlikely," the possibility has led to the need for monitoring, he said.
Geotechnical studies indicated that no structural damage would occur from the construction or operation of the tracks, Buford said.
The state Office of Historic Preservation signed off on the environmental assessment with full confidence, Mikesell said.
"I feel pretty good that the resources are pretty well-protected," he said. "We're confident the city is prepared to do the right thing."
The document spells out the city's right to enter the Central Shops, which are privately owned by Railyards developer Thomas Enterprises, to conduct the monitoring. That agreement had to be worked out in recognition of the public-private partnership which is simultaneously developing the Railyards and adjacent depot, which is integral to design plans for the Railyards.
In addition, the document requires the city to hire a qualified consultant to prepare historic structure reports for each of the properties, in accordance with Historic American Building Survey/Historic American Engineering Record standards.
If the finding must be registered with the Library of Congress, the FHWA must ensure the Caltrans contacts the National Park Service (NPS) to determine the documentation needed for each resource, according to the document. Then, Caltrans must get NPS approval of at least documentary photographs before any construction can begin that would impact a historic property.
Otherwise, appropriate documentation must be determined by the California State Parks Office of Historic Preservation and Caltrans. The document also requires the city to prepare archival copies of the documentation for federal or state repositories.
The Sixth Street levee is important because it represents three distinct episodes in levee construction, which document residents' struggle with decades of flooding by the American and Sacramento rivers. The levee preserves the technological responses used at the time and may contain artifacts. Settlers built the levee, one of the city's first, using anything they had. Specialists will have to go through a section of it to see if pottery or any other archaeologically valuable items were used, Buford said.
The Native American Heritage Commission told the city its Sacred Lands File contains no record of native American cultural resources in the project area. Four native Americans and a group representing native Americans didn't respond to the city's requests for information about whether the site was believed to contain artifacts or significance.
In the document, standard mitigation measures were outlined to protect the endangered Swainson’s hawk and Valley Elderberry Longhorn beetle, as well as bats and purple martins identified as species of concern, or their habitat.
Elderberry bushes provide critical habitat for the beetle. Three elderberry bushes within 20 feet of existing tracks must be moved to a nature preserve or mitigation bank to prevent disturbance from heavy construction equipment. The other bush, which is more than 20 feet from the site of the future tracks, can be fenced.
A survey will be conducted to determine if Swainson's hawks are nesting in trees during their February to September breeding season. If so, heavy construction equipment won't be used within 2,000 yards, according to Buford.
Purple martins have been nesting under a ramp from the I Street bridge. Biologists have recommended planting pine trees to offset the loss of disturbed nesting space under the ramp, erecting permanent perching wires to offset other utility wires that are coming down and other measures that would protect nesting materials and flight. Biologists also may build bird houses for the species, she said.
Biologists must update information about bats, which include the pallid and Pacific Western big-eared bats. Intermittent roosting but no nesting was observed under I-5 and the I Street ramp. Mitigation measures will be determined based on what a new study finds, she said.
Photos by David Watts Barton. Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.