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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Norfolk Southern Railroad Bridge Replacement within Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Region 3, November 5, 2012

The Norfolk Southern double-track mainline through northern Indiana between Chicago and the east coast crosses the East Branch Little Calumet River within lands primarily owned by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initially received unofficial information about this proposed project in May 2010 when we were provided documents by Indiana Department of Environmental Management staff.  The Service was officially contacted for early coordination in December 2011, when we were invited to a meeting among all the permitting agencies, the Lakeshore, NPS Regional Office staff, and Norfolk Southern and their consultants. The National Park Service informed everyone that they cannot sell or give away their lands but they can be exchanged for other lands of similar value to the park.  Since the railroad bisects much of Indiana Dunes Lakeshore and continues to own land adjacent to the park that the Lakeshore wishes to own, the two parties are continuing negotiations on this matter even as the Section 404 permit process moves forward. The project will consist of constructing two new bridges on either side of the existing bridge so that use can continue during construction (about 90 freight trains and 12 Amtrak passesger trains use the bridge daily in both directions), which will require widening the 25-foot high embankments across the floodplain and therefore clearing of several acres of mature trees. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that there is suitable summer nursery habitat for the federally endangered Indiana bat along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River, but no surveys have been conducted near the bridge. It was determined that because of the impacts of the existing bridge, which has been present for more than 100 years, and because of the narrow, linear nature of the impacts, cutting of the trees prior to April 1 will be sufficiently protective of the Indiana bat. Subsequently, tree removal occurred on the National Lakeshore portion of the new right-of-way prior to April 1, 2012, and the remainder of the cutting on three small private parcels will occur prior to April 1, 2013. The Corps on Engineers determined that the project can be permitted utilizing Indiana's Regional General Permit because impacts to wetlands are less that 1 acre (0.46 acre), but Indiana will need to issue a separate Section 401 permit and will therefore issue a Public Notice. The Indiana Department of Environmentl Management Public Notice was issued on October 18, 2012; FWS provided comments agreeing to the project mitigation and concurrence of Not Likely to Adversely Affect the Indiana bat on November 2, 2012.

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