U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requests public review and comments

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) completed a draft Compatibility Determination evaluating the Expansion of Arkansas Highway 18 near Manila, AR, along the existing Right of Way.

MANILA -- The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD), in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), proposes to widen Highway 18 from two lanes to four lanes on its existing alignment along the southern boundary (partially formed by Highway 18) of Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge for the purpose of public safety.

The proposed work is part of a larger project to improve approximately 25 miles of Highway 18 between the St. Francis River and Highway 181 in Craighead and Mississippi Counties in Arkansas.

Approximately 1.94 acres of the existing 11,038 acres of BLNWR will be converted to highway right-of-way (ROW) in order to construct the roadway and safety improvements.

The proposed project will replace three existing two-lane bridges with four-lane structures adjacent to BLNWR. Without replacement in the near future, these bridges will represent significant threats to public safety and would not accommodate the upgrade to a four-lane facility. Furthermore, the widening of the existing Highway 18 ROW along the refuge border is necessary to accommodate the widened highway approaches that already have been implemented east and west of the refuge to avoid the safety hazard of constricting traffic from four to two lanes at the refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has prepared a draft Compatibility Determination with the preliminary conclusion that the proposed project will not significantly interfere with the purposes of Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The public is invited to review and comment on the draft Compatibility Determination during a 14-day comment period beginning Jan. 17, 2014. Written comments must be postmarked or received via email by Jan. 30, 2014.

A copy of the draft document can be requested by contacting the Big Lake NWR office. Copies of the draft Compatibility Determination are also available at the Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge Office in Manila, Arkansas, the Wapanocca NWR Office in Turrell, Arkansas, or at the Central Arkansas NWR Complex headquarters in Augusta, Arkansas.

For additional information please contact Big Lake NWR Manager Jeremy Bennett at (870) 564-2429. Comments can be mailed to Refuge Manager, Big Lake NWR, P.O. Box 67, Manila, AR 72442 or emailed to jeremy_bennett@fws.gov.

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