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Categorical Exclusion Checklist

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National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Categorical Exclusion (CE) Checklist Information

In 2012, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) required the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to amend 23 CFR 771.117 to designate additional types of actions as Categorical Exclusions (CE). As a result, FHWA and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) collaborated and agreed to amend the 2005 Programmatic Agreement (PA) to incorporate the changes. The new PA was finalized and executed by the FHWA and MassDOT in May 2016. The 2016 Programmatic Agreement supersedes the 2005 Programmatic Agreement and comes hand-in-hand with a new CE Checklist and detailed instructions. All project teams with new categorically excluded projects will need to complete the new CE Checklist.

The new Programmatic Agreement was created with the purpose of increasing flexibility, streamlining the environmental process, and reducing paperwork. For the new CE Checklist, individual responses to questions have been removed and instead have been replaced with a more detailed Project Description section. It has also been updated to focus on sections such as Alternatives and Public Outreach. A greater emphasis has been placed on identifying existing conditions, environmental impacts and mitigation measures for the following categories: wetlands and waterways, threatened and endangered species, historic properties, Section 4(f) properties, noise, Right-of-Way requirements and other environmental impacts. These changes will allow consultants and project managers to give a more comprehensive background on projects while removing the excess language that the old version of the CE contained

Question #1: When will the new CE process be implemented?

Implementation of the new CE process begins immediately. The Programmatic Agreement was finalized in May, 2016. All new submissions should be submitted on the new CE form and checklist linked below.

  • CE Checklist - Through this checklist, MassDOT may make a CE determination on behalf of FHWA, along with the support of documentation that indicates that all of the required conditions, specified in regulation or in the Programmatic Agreement, have been satisfied.
  • Detailed Instructions - This document provides specifics about the CE checklist and the accompanying questions. It is a resource for the preparer to use when completing a CE submission.
  • Programmatic Agreement - This document authorizes MassDOT to determine, on behalf of FHWA, that projects that satisfy certain conditions identified in the agreement will not result in significant environmental impacts.

Question #2: When should the CE checklist be submitted to MassDOT Environmental Services?

The preparer should submit the CE checklist and supporting documentation to MassDOT Environmental Services once full evaluation of the impacts can be determined. The preparer should take the following steps (if applicable) before submittal:

  • Occurrence of a Design Public Hearing to document public comments and responses (see Question #12 for more information)
  • Utility site walk completed and revision of ROW to include any potential PUEs
  • Vetted consideration of wetlands permitting strategy (USACE SV vs. PCN, etc.)

Question #3: Does the CE submittal need to occur when the 25% Design Package and EECC are submitted?

No, the CE is to be submitted after the 25% Design Package has been submitted. The public hearing and utility walk (once the ROW has been set) must be completed before submission. MassDOT will be updating the EECC to note the CE is not required at 25% design submittal.

Question #4: Can MassDOT provide an example of a completed CE Package?

Question #5: What resources are used for determining the project impacts to Endangered Species and Environmental Justice Populations?

Available resources are the IPac and EJ Screen tools:

Endangered Species: USFWS IPaC- Information for Planning and Conservation: https://ecos.fws.gov/ipac/

  • Draw project limits on mapping tool
  • Click "Confirm"
  • On the next page click "Review Species and Resources"
  • Click on "Endangered species" tab to view species that could potentially be impacted by activities in the project location.

Environmental Justice Populations: EJ Screen: https://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/

  • Draw Project limits on map
  • Select "Map Data > Map EJ Indexes"
  • Select "Minority Population" and "Low Income" options in the Demographic indicators tab to determine if EJ populations are present near the project limits

Question #6: If a project does not require Right-of-Way (ROW), does this need to be confirmed with supporting documentation?

Yes. If a project does not require ROW, the preparer should submit the no ROW confirmation letter as an attachment to the CE checklist. If ROW is required, attach the parcel summary sheet to the checklist.

Question #7: Should Massachusetts-specific regulations be documented within the CE checklist project narrative?

The CE checklist project narrative should focus primarily on describing the project’s review pursuant to NEPA. Discussion of Massachusetts-specific regulations should only occur under certain conditions, such as:

  • Wetlands Protection Act (WPA): If an Order of Conditions will serve as a Section 401 Water Quality Certificate
  • Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act MEPA: Confirmation that thresholds are not exceeded to demonstrate consistency with Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Plan

Question #8: Should Section 106 clearance be discussed in the CE checklist project narrative?

The preparer should note in the draft CE checklist that MassDOT’s Cultural Resources Unit will conduct a full review of the project to determine the potential for impacts to cultural and historic resources in the project area.

Question #9: Will Section 4(f) coordination be necessary to include in the CE checklist?

Yes. MassDOT Environmental Services is currently developing a form that will detail and confirm de minimis Section 4(f) impacts. MassDOT will provide the Section 4(f) de Minimis form on the MassDOT website once it has been finalized.

Question #10: Should the preparer check more than one box if the CE applies to more than one category?

No. Pick the CE category that is the best fit for the project. Do not choose more than one check box for the project.

Question #11: What supporting documentation should the preparer provide with a CE submission?

The preparer should provide:

  • Locus Map
  • 4(f) coordination (if applicable)
  • Parcel Summary Sheet from ROW plans or "No ROW" letter
  • Other: Type I Noise Report, EPA coordination, Wild and Scenic River information, etc.

Question #12: How should the Alternatives section completed in the new CE?

The alternatives discussion should include a description of each alternative considered including the “No-Build Alternative” and a concise statement describing why alternatives were eliminated from further study. The alternatives analysis should be commensurate with the scope of the project. An alternatives narrative is available in an example CE checklist posted on the American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts website

Question #13: What should the preparer include in the Public Outreach section?

The Public Outreach section of the CE checklist should discuss the Design Public Hearing, along with other public involvement. This section should also contain descriptions of the public involvement efforts that were employed, such as local coordination letters, public information meetings/hearings, presentations to local boards or committees, etc. The preparer should also include a discussion of concerns expressed by the public, or other special interest groups, about the project and how those concerns were addressed.

Questions? Please contact the MassDOT Environmental Services MEPA/NEPA unit at (857) 368-8828.

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