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Jun-11-2012 20:14printcomments

Keystone XL Pipeline and California's Bullet Train: Similarities In Abundance

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Acceptance speech by Sen. Barry Goldwater @ San Francisco Presidential Convention in July of 1964

Deregulation and anti-protection proponents are like Flat Earth Folks
Deregulation and anti-protection proponents are like Flat Earth Folks. Photo: www.redstaplechronicles.com

(LAGUNA BEACH, CA) - Many of the critics who’ve posted comments to my columns in this online resource magazine continue unabated to declare myself and my ilk as “radical, lunatic fringy extremists” holding up the American economic recovery dream parade. They don’t just blog troll the volunteer environmental community at large either but also the state and federal agencies given the task, the legally requisite mandate of analysis, review, oversight and protection processes.

Typifying the “humans first, everything else last” movement, these SNc eco-Luddites, these pro-deregulation commentators are just the tip of the national outrage iceberg when it comes to resentment, repeatedly alleging NGO leaders as “Chicken Littles” and obstructionists. Federal agencies like the US Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, etc., get pilloried for working cooperatively with us---or even bothering to lend a sympathetic ear.

Yet open, consensus-driven solutions engaging all stakeholders fulfill the prescriptions of environmental review, plus policy, procedure and protocol laws passed decades ago, ratified in bipartisan acts and regulations, many carrying the signature of President Nixon affixed. So I guess those shoot the messenger types didn’t go out of fashion after Cleopatra, and like Johnny Winter sang in 1973, they’re “Still alive and well.”

The objectors aren’t anti-technology but do seem trapped back in an almost “Flat Earth,” Medieval Age mindset, hence my “Eco-Luddite” metaphor. The creation of our national parks system was followed by the vast array of enviro-protection acts passed in the late 60s---early 70s, the 20th Century brought awareness of our rapidly deteriorating resource treasures.

An artist's rendering shows the planned California high-speed rail
station in Fresno. (California High-Speed Rail Authority / June 4, 2012)

This new dawning of awareness protectionism involved not only the flora and fauna, but also devised parameters for anti-degradation mechanisms plus a Code of Federal Regulations that prohibit backsliding and carry fiscal sanctions.

Our Congressional leaders understood how rapidly all that was good about our nation’s common open space elements (air, soil and water) was disappearing, plowed under, polluted and being destroyed with no ability, no processes for cessation let alone reversal. They drafted, embraced and affirmed not only these acts but also liability structures to assess fines, to drive compliance via layered and iterative deterrence.

This also might help readers to understand why, just like design engineer always having backup capacity, there are redundant aspects to the multiple protection and enforcement agency systems. It keeps things from going unnoticed or slipping through the cracks unaddressed for too long.

It’s unpopular, to say the least, to support child or spousal abuse, so why is planetary abuse acceptable? And if the protection of our precious treasures, the ones unique to specific regions, are important as our heritage then who is the extremist? As an enviro-advocate or consultant, I’ve never advised my clients nor asked or demanded anything other than compliance with the established legal standards, ordinances, decrees, acts and their implementation practices. I didn’t make these things up, I just hold my government and project proponents/opponents accountable, responsible for the consequences of their activities.

Source: Texas Railroad Commission

The recent flaring up of anti-enviro emotion over both the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline and California’s North-South connecting bullet train system have a unique common thread for protectionists: Water crossings. These are places where concrete structures and ancillary stabilization devices like armoring, piers and their abutments for the transits are placed to carry the substantial respective weights projected over streams large and small.

First we had nutty Uncle Arnie, now we’ve got Governor Moonbeam (Jerry Brown) openly professing his wish to loosen up environmental regulation to allow massive public and private projects alike a really fast, streamlined track. Projects like a proposed NFL football stadium in the LA area and the bullet train are high up on his priority list, the logic being economic recovery. Maybe he should go back to that Buddhist monastery and contemplate his navel a little more, mull over the ramifications to such crass stupidity.

Such installations result in massive land clearing swaths, denuding of adjacent banks and surrounding vicinity to facilitate staging of material and invasive human intrusion where it never occurred prior. Fragile waterbodies are severely impacted as sediment is dislodged, banks reconfigured mechanically, flow regimes altered and they overwhelm, possibly wipe out existent aquatics with nowhere else to go.

Ephemeral stream crossing pipe increases erosion of environs.
Source: Wikimedia

Access roads for not only construction, but then (in perpetuity) subsequent operation and maintenance vehicles and personnel begins to add up and boggle anyone’s mind. Human footprints where pristine, untouched or undisturbed wilderness once ruled supreme. Now multiply that type of temporary and permanent disruption by the hundreds of crossing points. See why the jurisdictional agencies with the fiduciary, the trusting responsibilities are being cautious? Getting the picture?

Whether a tributary creek or the mainstem of a river, whether discharging into groundwater aquifers and basins, lakes or the ocean, water is the medium which transports and conveys potential adverse impacts. Polluted water constituents can move via subterranean osmosis through porous membranes and indefinitely contaminate adjacent soil, making remediation difficult. This is why CERCLA (Super Fund) sites are so expensive because the techniques for the remediation and cleansing timelines going on for decades.

Recently, the USACOE declared that it was giving special attention to at least 61 of the proposed 651 such water crossings in Texas. Those 61 are the ones known and identified in the Galveston area alone. And you read right, that’s 651 in Texas, perhaps only the USACOE and the proponents consultants know the actual totals for the entire pipeline from Canada to Houston.

Only God and maybe the US Fish & Wildlife Service probably know how many threatened and endangered species there are between Canada and Texas.

Meanwhile, here in my home state, that bullet train is projected to cross hundreds of streams, canals and wetlands. The proponent lead agencies are trying to build it in segments, but then run into the “Cumulative Impact” wall---Pun intended.

When monolithic structures fail, monumental impacts prevail

Under both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), piecemeal or sequential filings must address cumulative impacts, especially the ones with potentially significant adverse ones. Thus the accumulative impacts in the hundreds of such crossings triggers intense scrutiny, requires in-depth and complex metrics, to preemptively avoid not only short term, mid and long term fiascos but irreversible ones as well.

It wouldn’t take much for those into mischief (domestic terrorists or just your everyday garden variety pranksters) to sabotage a crossing. It wouldn’t just disrupt service but could cause a major biological plus societal calamity. Injuries affecting humans isn’t out of the question. The debris could block, could alter the vector, that is the velocity and magnitude of banks topped or if redirected significantly, improperly exacerbate erosion.

If even one major crossing failed, collapsed by criminal intent or by some unpredictable conditions, monolithic structures can become monumental hazards when broken asunder. Let loose pell-mell, steel and broken concrete have shredded, have wiped out miles of stream segment habitats before stabilizing or been physically removed. Massive local flood damage might come into play, so what will FEMA cover if it was proven to be poor, myopic planning that was to blame? These are legitimate fiscal questions and eco-concerns in today’s down economy and limited public funds.

Mr. Roger asks: “Can you say I-35W Mississippi River Bridge Collapse in Minneapolis? I knew you could.”

Central Valley farmers and others have requested a preliminary
injunction to block bullet-train construction planned for later this
year. The project is already facing other suits, and still more
agricultural interests in the Central Valley are gearing up to add to
those battles. (Associated Press / June 4, 2012)

Granted the water crossings we’re discussing are much smaller, maybe no one dies or is injured but the over-riding concept remains the same. Design engineers years ago when this bridge was planned and built used lower standards for shorter life expectancy of their projects, they used 50 flood event protection metrics but now use 100 year guidelines. Their understanding and integration into advanced planning of the potential adverse eco-impacts is now thankfully part of their brain housing matrix.

And please, don’t personally blame them, most of the time they’re just working stiff employees with families to feed, under budget restraints or constrictions that limit maximum standard implementation in many ways. Nothing makes them prouder than knowing their projects will outlive them and their children. To save money, oftentimes public agencies are required to use the lowest competitive bid if the vendor is credentialed. Unfortunately that usually equals CHEAP & FAST, which equals cutting corners and bare bones installations.

We do however now try to build for more endurance, to higher seismic and abutment erosion standards, use better materials (unless you’re inside of Boston’s Boondoggle Big Dig) and with more public stakeholder input as well. That was then, this is now. Humans as a species have succeeded because we learned by our historical failures so we have no excuse for ignoring future lapses. Science is more refined hence the prescriptions for protective compliance are too. This, by the way, is why God created risk benefit analyses on top of cost benefit ones.

The Sulphur River in Lamar County, Texas, one of 651
water crossings in the state along the pipeline route.
Credit: B.J. Bumgarner
Keystone XL: Will EPA Concern
Over 61 Water Crossings Go Unanswered?

Many of these waterways with proposed concrete and/or metal crossings have “critical habitat connectivity,” that is are physically and biologically linked thus shouldn’t be separated or fragmented. Whether ephemeral due to major periodic rainy events or perhaps as constant, perennial-flowing streams, all work in unison, holistically inextricable, in toto.

Many of the riparian and aquatic species in/around them rely solely upon relatively unpolluted and undisturbed conditions, can only survive if left alone. Biological islands, that is physically isolating populations in this truncated manner is detrimental to genetic drift and general ecosystem health.

As for the “human first” complainers, the majority of our drinking and irrigation water in California comes from these sources, flows through these systems both manmade and made by nature. The North and South are already in a civil war over water rights and allocations, imagine the nightmare of still more endless litigation and dispute?

Because we are dominantly a complaint-driven society, all of these questions need to be asked and answered and not just because it’s the law(s).

It’s easy for those with no potential injury due to lack of proximity to sit there and say “Full speed ahead.” You’re not the one who will be jeopardized or directly affected, who will have the ecologies damaged or destroyed, who might be forced to relocate. So it always depends on whose ox is either being gored or could be.

The San Joaquin kit fox is among the 11 endangered or
threatened species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says
would be affected by the Merced-to-Fresno section of the
California high-speed rail project.
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / June 10, 2012)

The deregulation, go-for-it folks, would like to roll back the clock to an era of little if any oversight---say the pre-Darwin 19th Century. If they want to blame anyone, once again I suggest that you disinter Tricky Dicky and those US Congressional leaders from way back when. And while you’re at it, ask them why they passed the Endangered Species Act that provides protection for those threatened or endangered flora and fauna.

The argument that we already have massive pipeline or transportation systems at water crossings in place, that they’re doing fine and more is no problem is false. First, everything has a break point, a tilting point of no return. Getting away with underground or above ground in the past doesn’t righteously justify doing so in the future. More isn’t always the merrier. Many of these projects wouldn’t happen given today’s scientific biological and engineering insights anyway. That’s because the rumor is we’re supposed to be getting smarter.

To me, it is these deregulation dummies that are the binary thinkers, they are closed-minded and unrealistic, they refuse to wake up and smell today’s coffee. And what’s brewing is the result of increased scientific community knowledge about the nexus between ecological webs, engineering, and proactive, visionary planning and land use design.

This makes them the minority, the 404 Clueless Meatspacers, the out-of-touch extremists, not NGO leaders and concerned consultants like myself. Unlike that Barry Goldwater quote, it isn’t liberty or a laissez-faire democracy they claim to defend which is at stake here but the very things that make and keep America beautiful they’ll jeopardize in such a haphazard, indignant and capricious manner.

FYI: If a project near you has some interesting enviro-aspect(s) that you think is/are worthy of Salem-News.com coverage and our readers attention, feel free to contact me with a very brief synopsis. Water-related “Blue Interventions” are my specialty!

Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger von Bütow and his OMO columns are written exclusively for Salem-News-com. Born and raised in the LA Harbor area, son of a German immigrant father, he moved to Orange County in 1965 and has lived in Laguna Beach since 1972. In 1998, he began his professional career in environmental review processes (CEQA, NEPA, MND, MND and EIR/EIS). He's a rare mix of cross-trained builder, writer and consultant as he brings his extensive construction experiences dating back to 1972 into his eco-endeavors. He has tremendous field and technical expertise in successful watershed restorations, plus wastewater, urban runoff, water quality monitoring/improvements and hydrologic mechanisms. He's built everything from commercial spas to award-winning private residences, and provided peer review and consultant analyses for single homes, subdivisions and upscale resorts.

View articles written by Roger Butow Read Roger's full biography on the Salem-News.com Staff Page

His resumé is extensive, try an online GOOGLE search of his personal journey and historical accomplishments. His consultation fees are reasonable and if you've got a major project that alarms you, that needs creative intervention, then he's your man. His credentials and "CV" can be provided upon request.

Contact him at his office: (949) 715.1912 or drop him an email: rogerbutow@cleanwaternow.com




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