Ashton Pits NEPA
Public Comment Sought on Adopting
Environmental Assessment Addendum for the
Proposed Land Exchange on the Ashton Pits WMA near Ashton, Iowa
The Service is considering adopting the Environmental Assessment Addendum (EAA) previously issued by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in 2002 for the proposed improvements to U.S. Highway 60 (Ashton Bypass) which would impact the Ashton Pits Wildlife Management Area in Osceola County, Iowa. The proposed highway project will encroach into and impact approximately 1.86 acres of the wildlife management area, located one-half mile northeast of Ashton in northwest Iowa. The 33-acre wildlife area was acquired in 1965 with the use of Federal Aid Wildlife Restoration Program funds and is owned and managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). If the EAA is adopted by the Service, the Service will develop and approve a "Finding of No Significant Impact," or FONSI, that will allow the land exchange to occur.
The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) will be replacing the 1.86 acres impacted by this project with 42.36 acres of land adjacent to the Ashton Pits Wildlife Area. The replacement lands would include a 12-acre fishing lake and a five-acre wetland area. The DOT has also agreed to upgrade the existing access road and expand the parking lot on the Ashton Pits Wildlife Area at an estimated cost of $30,000. A memorandum of Agreement has been prepared between the Iowa DNR and the Iowa DOT which details the various mitigation measures and enhancements that will be undertaken by the Iowa DOT to minimize and/or compensate for the project impacts to the State wildlife area.
In 1994, Department of the Interior wrote to the FHWA with regard to Section 4(f) compliance which mandates that transportation projects avoid special lands including historic properties, parks, and wildlife refuges when practicable. While the letter did not specifically address the Ashton Pits Wildlife Area, it set forth mitigation and replacement requirements for the Ashton Wayside Park. These requirements are also being met for the Ashton Pits Wildlife Area. Both the Iowa DNR and Service believe that the wildlife value and fisheries value of the replacement land greatly exceeds the wildlife and fisheries values of the Ashton Pits Wildlife Area lands that will be converted to highway purposes and that this project will result in a net benefit to fish and wildlife, highway users, and users of Iowa's natural resources. The Service and Iowa DNR also believe that all reasonable alternatives to avoiding the Ashton Pits Wildlife Area have been considered.
An Environmental Assessment (EA), EAA, and FONSI have been prepared by the Iowa DOT/FHWA on the project. Copies of these documents can be obtained from the DOT by contacting Mr. Stephen G. Larson at telephone number (515) 239-1786, fax number (515) 239-1726, or by e-mail: Stephen.Larson@dot.state.ia.us . Excerpts from the EAA and related documents pertaining to the Ashton Pits Wildlife Area are provided below.
Comments on the proposal are welcome and may be submitted by fax, letter or e-mail to Mr. Bradley V. Johnson, Chief, Division of Federal Aid, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056, telephone number (612) 713-5131, fax number (612) 713-5290, e-mail: Bradley_Johnson@fws.gov . All comments must be received by Mr. Johnson no later than Wednesday, October 3, 2003.