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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Kirk Yard Expansion and Rare Natural Habitat Preservation

Region 3, August 1, 2013

The Canadian National Railway Company and their consultants began discussing the Kirk Yard expansion with the natural resources agencies shortly after the company purchased the EJ&E Railroad, owner of Kirk Yard, in 2009. This railroad yard has existed since the early 1900s in an area that was originally a short distance inland from the Lake Michigan shoreline, but landfilling for the expansion of the US Steel Gary Work steel mill since that time means it is now about 0.75 mile south of the shoreline. However, native dune and swale habitats remain adjacent to the rail yard, and two Indiana State Nature Preserves are within 0.5 mile west/southwest of the yard. Preservation of the remaining dune and swale habitats has been a priority of the Indiana Division of Nature Preserves for almost 40 years.
Discussions with the railroad through the years centered on reducing impacts to wetlands and the remaining natural areas, with suggested mitigation to include preservation of the highest quality sites, with either management by the Division of Nature Preserves or The Nature Conservancy or donation to one of these entities. CN worked cooperatively to design new tracks and bridges to serve their needs while at the same time reducing impacts to these significant natural resources. Numerous meetings and site visits were held, and the final proposal was for additional tracks and bridges affecting 7.17 acres of wetlands, most of which were significantly degraded, such as being dominated by common reed. The proposed mitigation is to recreate 7.57 acres of wetlands at a filled swale in dune and swale habitat (Yard A/B) and enhance the EJ&E/CN portion of the Lakeshore Railroad Prairie and USX Prairie, for a total of 41.15 acres protected.
The Corps of Engineers Public Notice for the Section 404 wetland fill permit was posted for public comment on October 5, 2012. A final multi-agency meeting and site review was held on November 14, 2012, to review the specific sites that would be impacted, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided comments that same day, requesting salvage and relocation of native plants to the mitigation site and enhancement of degraded uplands at the mitigation site to complement the recreated wetlands.
The Section 404 permit was issued on June 26, 2013, and included requirements for preservation and restoration of the Lakeshore Railroad Prairie and USX Prairie, with additional work at Pine Station State Nature Preserve and the Yard A/B dune and swale mitigation area. It also stipulated that either DNP or TNC must be granted conservation easements of the Lakeshore Railroad Prairie, USX Prairie, and the other CN-owned mitigation sites after the mitigation performance standards are met.
Although it was originally planned to move salvaged native vegetation to the Yard A/B mitigation site, it was later determined that construction timing and sequencing did not allow that to occur; instead, the salvaged vegetation was moved to Clark Station State Nature Preserve to enhance disturbed portions of that protected property.
The end result of this permit process will be the preservation and protection of several remnant dune and swale habitats, a Globally Imperiled Habitat type, which the State of Indiana has been working to save since the 1970s, while the CN develops its largest rail yard for continued service and economic development into the future.
 

Contact Info: Larry Dean, 612-713-5312, Larry_Dean@fws.gov