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ODOT seeks permit to work in wetlands

The Oregon Department of Transportation has requested a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work in Upton Slough and adjacent wetlands while building a Highway 62 bypass between Medford and White City.

Located from Bullock Road to East Gregory Road on the west side of the highway, the project also would impact portions of Whetstone, Swanson and Lone Pine creeks.

A permit is required under the federal Clean Water Act to discharge material into waters of the U.S. The work also must be evaluated in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

To offset impacts to vernal pools in the area, ODOT has proposed a mitigation plan which includes tapping into its vernal-pool-mitigation and conservation bank, as well as off-site restoration of a 63-acre portion of a vernal pool site.

The goal is to ensure there is no loss of vernal pool habitat when the project is completed, officials said.

The rare vernal pools provide the life-support systems for two species protected by the Endangered Species Act, including the large-flowered woolly meadowfoam and fairy shrimp. The meadowfoam is listed as endangered, while the fairy shrimp is threatened. "Vernal pools are hard to replicate," said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming. "We work with regulators to set aside these vernal pool areas and manage the bank to offset the development of road projects in the valley."

The vernal pool project is the first of its kind for ODOT. However, before the project becomes shovel-ready, ODOT needs to have its federal permits in place, he noted.

The application requests the discharge of 131,175 cubic yards of fill material, impacting approximately 9.7 acres of wetlands. There also would be the discharge of 4,276 cubic yards of fill material placed on 0.55 of an acre below the ordinary high-water mark.

The work will occur in two phases, with the first extending from the southern terminus to just south of Vilas Road. The second phase will extend north from Vilas Road to the Medco Haul Road past Justice Road.

The new bypass will consist of four 12-foot travel lanes, one 10-foot center median and two 8-foot-wide shoulders. Construction includes grading, erosion and sediment controls, drainage preparation, utility installation, paving, storm water treatment and other related improvements.

The wetlands portion of the bypass effort is part of a larger, nearly 9-mile-long project to reduce congestion and improve safety along the highway, Leaming said.

With the application for the permits to work on the wetlands filed on Thursday, a 30-day comment period has been launched.

Comments on the proposed wetland work can be sent through Nov. 4 to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Dominic Yballe, P.O. Box 2946, Portland, OR 97208-2946.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.