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Tennessee Environmental Procedures Manual

Chapter 5: Impact Analysis

5.2 Records Check in Early Project Planning Phase

A desktop records check should be conducted early in project planning, regardless of which development process is followed for a project. An early records check provides a sound basis for developing or refining alternatives for study in the NEPA document. The records check also provides the background information needed to undertake field surveys and assess project impacts.

A preliminary records check should be undertaken during environmental screening, which occurs early in project planning, before alternatives are developed. The Environmental Division NEPA Documentation planner, the Natural Resources Office, the Social and Cultural Resources Office, and/or consultants may participate in the early records check. The records check can identify issues of concern early in the process. For example, a records check could reveal that a National Historic Landmark property or federally-designated Wilderness Area would be bisected by the project corridor.

A thorough records check should be conducted once the purpose and need of the project has been identified in the NEPA process and should be verified throughout the process.

Different types of records can be accessed in different ways. Some records must be manually checked in person at agency offices. Other records are accessible online, and still other records are available via Geographic Information Systems (GIS), allowing data to be electronically linked to geographic points, i.e., maps.

GIS is a useful tool, used by thousands of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals to access and manage multiple sets of geographically related information. Available GIS software tools allows the planner to perform complex analysis of the information and map the results in a user-friendly and understandable format. These tasks may consist of the management of data that include social and economic, land use, floodplain, traffic and accident, utilities, geological, and a host of others. GIS also allows for different types of data to be joined by a common feature for data analysis and mapping purposes.

Data for Tennessee are available through the Tennessee Geographic Information Council website ( The Tennessee Spatial Data Server provides a number of coverages for the state including county boundaries, county seat locations, city limits, watersheds, detailed streams, 7.5 Minute Series USGS Quadrangle grids, soils, geology, public lands, scenic rivers, and land cover. These data are useful when analysis and mapping is needed on a statewide basis.

Soils, wetlands, digital raster graphics, and 2000 U.S. Census data are all available for each county in Tennessee. Each of these data sets can be useful for data collection, analysis and mapping. Downloadable digital wetlands data are available through the National Wetlands Inventory website ( Land use and zoning data may be found in a GIS format in most, but not all, urbanized areas.

The above tools can be used to give a visual sense, or "snapshot", of the study area conditions through detailed mapping. The mapping of data either manually or through the use of GIS is especially beneficial for analysis of census and socioeconomic data. In GIS, maps can be produced that spatially locate and compare data for different geographical sets (census blocks, cities, counties, etc.) such as population, density, employment, and housing data, all of which can be useful for environmental studies.

The section below describes some of the record types that are useful to check early in project planning and the process for accessing the records.

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5.2.1 Cultural Resources

Architectural/Historical Resources

Tennessee State Historic Preservation Office
Clover Bottom Mansion
2941 Lebanon Road
Nashville, Tennessee

This records check can be done during environmental screening or as part of the technical studies done for the NEPA document. It involves a preliminary records check of the files at the Tennessee State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), reviewing the quad maps for properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and possibly talking with the SHPO NRHP staff. This preliminary check can be done by a historic preservation planner, a consultant or by the Environmental Division's Historic Preservation Section.

A thorough records search includes checking the NRHP listings, the master quad survey maps, applicable survey forms, and a general perusal of the survey cards for properties within the project area since many of these are not cited on the quad maps. The NRHP staff is also consulted to determine if they are aware of any National Register nominations being prepared for the study area or of any eligibility decisions that have been made for the area.

A literature review is also conducted at this stage. This involves reviewing published preservation plans and architectural surveys that cover the study area. Knox and Hamilton Counties have preservation plans, and Shelby, Sevier, and Davidson Counties have architectural survey books. The SHPO has survey reports for several counties. Conclusions from these studies regarding National Register eligibility and non-eligibility should be included in the assessment; however, the TDOT Historic Preservation Section staff or consultant eligibility determination may differ from the NRHP recommendation made in the survey report as a result of the additional research and field work that has been or will be conducted.

Archaeological Resources

Tennessee Division of Archaeology
Cole Building #3,
1216 Foster Avenue
Nashville, Tennessee

It is recommended that this review be completed by an archaeologist. A records search for archaeological sites involves checking the files of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA). The TDOA contains the state's most comprehensive set of archaeological records. The files contain USGS quadrangle maps showing locations and site numbers of previously recorded sites, site records for all known sites and reports produced for cultural resource management activities. An appointment to review the records must be made with the Site Files Coordinator.

Unlike the historic resources files, a review of the site file maps will not provide information on whether the sites previously surveyed meet the NRHP eligibility criteria or whether enough work has been completed to make such a determination. The map review must be accompanied by a review of the accompanying site files, which is best understood by a qualified archaeologist. Even then, more work may be required to determine NRHP eligibility.

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5.2.2 Natural Resources

A natural resources check can be completed during environmental screening or it can be conducted as part of the technical studies done for the NEPA document, which is discussed later in this chapter. TDOT or consultant biologists initially review the TDOT GIS data sets maintained on the TDOT Intranet to note any potential encroachments on major streams or on identified wetlands, springs, caves, sinkholes or depressions. Records provided by TDEC and TWRA are consulted for federally listed, state listed, or proposed listed plant and animal species. TDOT staff access a copy of TDEC's natural heritage database in a GIS format for these records. If appropriate, TDOT may send the consultant a map and accompanying information derived from data supplied to TDOT by the TDEC Resource Management Division, Natural Heritage Inventory Program. Alternatively, TDOT may require that the consultant request the information directly from the Natural Heritage Inventory Program. In the latter case, TDEC will charge the consultant a fee per project for this information.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Soil Surveys for the project area are checked. Soils having high potential for wetland formation are identified by reading the soil survey narrative and comparing the soil units to the USDA's list of hydric soils. Soil survey maps are also used to help identify springs and streams not shown on topographic maps. Information of the soil survey program can be obtained at

Additional wetland information is obtained by consulting the National Wetland Inventory (NWI) maps at The NWI maps must be used with caution as they do not show all wetlands, as many sites no longer exist and newly developed sites are not shown on the maps. In addition, much of the information depicted on the maps has not been verified in the field.

Known cave locations are identified by perusing books on caves available from the TDEC Division of Geology. These books include: Caves of Tennessee (1961) by Thomas Barr and Descriptions of Tennessee Caves (1971) by Larry Matthews. Local cavers are sometimes consulted for information on lesser-known caves. Often, local governments maintain a database or set of maps indicating the locations of known sinkholes. In addition, those sinkholes with limited storage capacity and/or historic flooding issues are often known by local governments. Coordination with local governments should include the location and limitations of sinkholes.

The TDEC website ( is accessed to obtain information on water bodies designated as Exceptional Tennessee Waters (previously known as Tier 2), Outstanding National Resource Waters (previously known as Tier 3), impaired waters (303(d) list), and streams impaired by siltation and/or habitat. All impaired streams appear on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 303(d) list, but they may be listed for other pollutants. Some watersheds also have approved Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). TMDLs must be approved by the EPA before they are finalized. Proposed TMDLs are those that have been developed by TDEC and in the draft stage. All proposed TMDLs are placed on public notice for comments. Until the proposed TMDLs are approved by EPA, they are not regulatory documents.

Ecology section staff, a consultant, or the ED planner also should check:

  1. Tennessee Scenic Rivers designated under the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. The TDEC website for Tennessee scenic rivers is
  2. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency website for Wildlife Management Areas at
  3. National Wild and Scenic Rivers website at
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5.2.3 Hazardous Materials

A records check will be conducted by the TDOT Hazardous Materials Coordinator, the planner, or TDOT's consultant, during environmental screening to identify major known areas of hazardous materials or contamination concerns within the predefined study corridor that may influence the development of corridors and alternatives. Both Federal (EPA) and State (TDEC) records should be reviewed.

Hazardous materials sites are managed in one of two main regulatory programs, RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act), and CERCLA, aka Superfund (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980). In addition, petroleum-related sites with underground storage tanks, such as gas stations, are managed under the TDEC Underground Storage Tanks Program.

EPA provides a GIS-based web site to identify hazardous materials sites called EnviroMapper at It is important to note that not all state-managed hazardous substance sites will appear in EnviroMapper. Much of TDEC environmental information is not yet readily available on the Internet, and information must be obtained directly from TDEC offices.

A more detailed analysis of properties for hazardous materials concerns is undertaken in the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment during the development of the draft NEPA document.

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5.2.4 Environmental Justice

During environmental screening, it is advisable to conduct research to preliminarily determine whether environmental justice issues may exist in a proposed project area. This can be done through any of the following methods: use of GIS to determine if minority populations exist in the project area, mapping of census data by other methods, conversations with local government and lastly, through field observation. The EPA's new on-line assessment tool, EJView, was designed to allow the public to run analyses and identify potential areas that may suffer from greater exposure to environmental harms. The tool is found at In addition, the planner will coordinate with TDOT's Civil Rights Office.

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5.2.5 Map Review

A review of available mapping, including USGS quadrangle maps, city and county maps and TDOT road maps can provide valuable planning information early in the planning process. For example, these maps show National Parks, National Forests and federally designated Wilderness Areas; blueline streams, ponds, rivers and lakes; cemeteries; roads, road classifications and bridges; schools, churches and community facilities; historic sites and museums; city, county and regional parks; wildlife management areas; city and town limits; state-designated natural areas; airports; subdivision development; military installations; and powerlines. All of this information is critical to project planning.

County and state maps can be obtained through the TDOT Map Sales Office in the Long Range Planning Division (Ordering instructions and some maps are available or on-line at Most property maps can be obtained through the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, Division of Property Assessments Mapping Section. Some property maps, however, can only be obtained through the county or city tax appraiser's office. TDEC has USGS maps for sale and they can also be obtained online at City maps, federal agency maps (such as National Park Service and National Forest Service) can be obtained directly from the local government or agency or viewed on-line.

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