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Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Clearinghouse: Environmental resources for tribal energy development
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Biomass Energy Construction Impacts

Construction activities that may cause environmental impacts include ground clearing, grading, excavation, blasting, trenching, drilling, facility construction, and vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Typical activities during the biomass energy facility construction phase include ground clearing (removal of vegetative cover), grading, excavation, blasting, trenching, drilling, vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and construction and installation of facilities. Biomass power plants and some biogas plants that produce more electricity than required to operate the facility need transformers and transmission lines to deliver electricity to the power grid. Landfill gas production would require the drilling of wells for extraction of the gas and might require pipeline construction to deliver the gas to the user. Activities conducted in locations other than the facility site might include excavation and blasting for construction materials (e.g., sand, gravel) and access road construction. Potential impacts from these activities are presented below, by the type of affected resource.

The following potential impacts may result from biomass energy construction activities.

Acoustics (Noise)

The primary source of noise during construction would be heavy equipment (e.g., bulldozers, graders, backhoes, excavators, dump trucks, and cement trucks). Other sources of noise include vehicular traffic and blasting for raw materials. The magnitude of construction noise impacts would depend upon the construction activity, noise levels generated by construction equipment, duration of the activity, the distance to noise-sensitive receptors, and any shielding provided by barriers and topography. Whether noise levels exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines or local ordinances would depend on the distance to the nearest residence. If near a residential area, noise levels from blasting and equipment operation could exceed the EPA guidelines but would be intermittent and extend for only a limited time.

Air Quality (including Global Climate Change and Carbon Footprint)

Emissions generated during the construction phase include vehicle emissions; diesel emissions from large construction equipment and generators; releases of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from storage and transfer of vehicle/equipment fuels; small amounts of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates from blasting activities; and fugitive dust from many sources such as disturbing and moving soils (clearing, grading, excavating, trenching, backfilling, dumping, and truck and equipment traffic), mixing concrete, storage of unvegetated soil piles, and drilling and pile driving.

A permit is needed from the state or local air agency to control or mitigate these emissions; therefore, these emissions would not likely cause an exceedance of air quality standards nor have an impact on climate change. A construction permit under the mandated prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) of air quality regulations might be required.

Cultural Resources

Direct impacts to cultural resources could occur from construction activities, and indirect impacts might be caused by soil erosion and increased accessibility to possible site locations. Potential impacts include:

  • Complete destruction of the resource if present in areas undergoing surface disturbance or excavation;
  • Degradation or destruction of near-surface cultural resources on- and off-site resulting from topographic or hydrological pattern changes, or from soil movement (removal, erosion, and sedimentation). (Note: the accumulation of sediment could protect some localities by increasing the amount of protective cover.);
  • Unauthorized removal of artifacts or vandalism to the site could occur as a result of increases in human access to previously inaccessible areas, if significant cultural resources are present; and
  • Visual impacts resulting from vegetation clearing, increases in dust, and the presence of large-scale equipment, machinery, and vehicles (if the affected cultural resources have an associated landscape or other visual component that contributes to their significance, such as a sacred landscape or historic trail).

Ecological Resources

Ecological resources that could be affected include vegetation, fish, and wildlife, and their habitats. Vegetation and topsoil would be removed for the construction of the biomass energy facility, associated access roads, transmission lines, pipelines, and other ancillary facilities. This would lead to a loss of wildlife habitat, reduction in plant diversity, potential for increased erosion, and potential for the introduction of invasive or noxious weeds. The recovery of vegetation following interim and final reclamation would vary by the type of plant community desired. Dust settling on vegetation may alter or limit plants' abilities to photosynthesize and/or reproduce. Although the potential for an increase in the spread of invasive and noxious weeds would occur during the construction phase due to increasing traffic and human activity, the potential impacts could be reduced by interim reclamation and implementation of mitigation measures.

Adverse impacts to wildlife could occur during construction from:

  • Erosion and runoff;
  • Fugitive dust;
  • Noise;
  • Introduction and spread of invasive vegetation;
  • Modification, fragmentation, and reduction of habitat;
  • Mortality of biota (i.e., death of plants and animals);
  • Exposure to contaminants; and
  • Interference with behavioral activities.

Wildlife would be most affected by habitat reduction within the project site, access roads, and gas and water pipeline rights-of-way. Wildlife within surrounding habitats might also be affected if the construction activity (and associated noise) disturbs normal behaviors, such as feeding and reproduction.

Depletion of surface waters from perennial streams could result in a reduction of water flow, which could lead to habitat loss and/or degradation of aquatic species.

Environmental Justice

If significant impacts occurred in any resource areas, and these impacts disproportionately affected minority or low-income populations, then there could be an environmental justice impact. Issues of potential concern during construction are noise, dust, and visual impacts from the construction site and possible impacts associated with the construction of new access roads. Additional impacts include limitations on access to the area for tribal recreation, subsistence, and traditional activities.

Hazardous Materials and Waste Management

Solid and industrial waste would be generated during construction activities. The solid wastes would likely be nonhazardous and consist mostly of containers, packaging materials, and wastes from equipment assembly and construction crews. These wastes would be transported to a sanitary landfill. Sanitary waste would be generated by the construction workers and would be transported to a sanitary waste facility. Industrial wastes would include minor amounts of fuels, spent vehicle and equipment fluids (lubricating oils, hydraulic fluids, battery electrolytes, glycol coolants), paints, coatings, and spent solvents. Hazardous materials include compressed gases used for welding, cutting, brazing, etc.; dielectric fluids, oils, and coolants. A commercial hazardous waste management contractor would transport these materials off-site for disposal. Impacts could result if the wastes were not properly handled and were released to the environment. No impacts are expected from proper handling of all wastes.

Human Health and Safety

Potential impacts to worker and public health and safety from biomass plant construction would be similar to those expected for any construction project with earthmoving, large equipment, transportation of oversized materials, and construction and installation of industrial facilities. Most accidents in the construction industry result from overexertion, falls, or being struck by equipment. Construction-related illnesses could also result from exposure to chemical substances from spills. In addition, health and safety issues include working in potential weather extremes and possible contact with natural hazards, such as uneven terrain and dangerous plants, animals, or insects. All personnel involved with the construction would utilize appropriate safety equipment and would be properly trained in required Occupational Safety and Health Administration practices.

Land Use

Impacts to land use could occur during construction if there were conflicts with existing land use plans and community goals; conflicts with existing recreational, educational, religious, scientific, or other use areas; or conversion of the existing commercial land use for the area (e.g., agriculture, grazing, mineral extraction).

Existing land use during construction would be affected by intrusive impacts such as ground clearing, increased traffic, noise, dust, and human activity, as well as by changes in the visual landscape. In particular, these impacts could affect recreationists seeking solitude or recreational opportunities in a relatively pristine landscape. Ranchers or farmers could be affected by loss of available grazing or crop lands, potential for the introduction of invasive and noxious plants that could affect livestock forage availability, and possible increases in livestock/vehicle collisions. An expanded access road system could increase the numbers of off-highway vehicle users, hunters, and other recreationists in the surrounding area.

Impacts to aviation could be possible if the project is located within 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) or less of an existing public or military airport, or if proposed construction involves objects greater than 200 feet (61 meters) in height. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must be notified if either of these two conditions occurs, and the FAA would be responsible for determining if the project would adversely affect commercial, military, or personal air navigation safety. Similarly, impacts to military operations could occur if a project was located near a military facility, if that facility conducts low-altitude military testing and training activities.

Paleontological Resources

Impacts to paleontological resources could occur directly from the construction activities or indirectly from soil erosion and increased accessibility to fossil locations. Potential impacts include:

  • Complete destruction of the resource if present in areas undergoing surface disturbance or excavation;
  • Degradation or destruction of near-surface fossil resources on- and off-site caused by changes to topography, changes to hydrological patterns, and soil movement (removal, erosion, and sedimentation). (Note: the accumulation of sediment could serve to protect some locations by increasing the amount of protective cover.); and
  • Unauthorized removal of fossil resources or vandalism to the site could occur as a result of increased human access to previously inaccessible areas, if significant paleontological resources are present.


Direct impacts would include the creation of new jobs for construction workers and the associated income and taxes generated by the biomass facility. Indirect impacts would occur as a result of the new economic development, and would include new jobs at businesses that support the expanded workforce or provide project materials, and associated income and taxes. Proximity to biomass facilities could potentially affect property values, either positively from increased employment effects or negatively from proximity to residences or local businesses and any associated or perceived environmental effects (noise, visual, etc.).

Adverse impacts could occur if a large in-migrant workforce, culturally different from the local indigenous group, is brought in during construction. This influx of migrant workers could strain the existing community infrastructure and social services.

Soils and Geologic Resources

Sands, gravels, and quarry stone for constructing access roads, making concrete for foundations and ancillary structures, and improving ground surface for laydown areas and crane staging areas would either be brought in from off-site sources or would be excavated on site.

Depending upon the extent of excavation and blasting required to install access roads and support facilities, there is a limited risk of triggering geologic hazards (e.g., landslides). Altering drainage patterns could also accelerate erosion and create slope instability.

Surface disturbance, heavy equipment traffic, and changes to surface runoff patterns could cause soil erosion and impacts to special soils (e.g., cryptobiotic soils). Impacts of soil erosion could include soil nutrient loss and reduced water quality in nearby surface water bodies.


Short-term increases in the use of local roadways would occur during the construction period. Heavy equipment likely would remain at the site. Shipments of materials are unlikely to affect primary or secondary road networks significantly, but this would depend on the location of the project site relative to material source. Oversized loads could cause temporary transportation disruptions and could require some modifications to roads or bridges (such as fortifying bridges to accommodate the size or weight). Shipment weight might also affect the design of access roads for grade determinations and turning clearance requirements.

Visual Resources

The magnitude of visual impacts of construction of a biomass facility is dependent upon the distance of the construction activities from the viewer, the view duration, and the scenic quality of the landscape.

Possible sources of visual impacts during construction include:

  • Ground disturbance and vegetation removal could result in visual impacts that produce contrasts of color, form, texture, and line. Excavation for foundations and ancillary structures; trenching to bury pipelines; grading and surfacing roads; clearing and leveling staging areas; and stockpiling soil and spoils might be visible by viewers in the vicinity of the site. Soil scars and exposed slope faces would result from excavation, leveling, and equipment movement.
  • Road development (new roads or expansion of existing roads) and parking areas could introduce strong visual contrasts in the landscape, depending on the route relative to surface contours, and the width, length, and surface treatment of the roads.
  • Conspicuous and frequent small-vehicle traffic for worker access and frequent large-equipment (trucks, graders, excavators, and cranes) traffic for road construction, site preparation, and biomass facility construction could produce visible activity and dust in dry soils. Suspension and visibility of dust would be influenced by vehicle speeds and road surface materials.
  • There would be a temporary presence of large equipment, producing emissions while operational and creating visible exhaust plumes. Support facilities and fencing associated with the construction work would also be visible.
  • Night lighting would change the nature of the visual environment in the vicinity.

Water Resources (Surface Water and Groundwater)

Water Use

Water would be used for dust control when clearing vegetation and grading and for road traffic; for making concrete for foundations and ancillary structures; and for consumptive use by the construction crew. Water is likely to be obtained from nearby surface water bodies or aquifers, depending on availability, but could be trucked in from off site. The quantity of water used would be small relative to water availability.

Water Quality

Water quality could be affected by:

  • Activities that cause soil erosion;
  • Weathering of newly exposed soils, that could cause leaching and oxidation, thereby releasing chemicals into the water;
  • Discharges of waste or sanitary water;
  • Untreated groundwater used to control dust could deposit dissolved salts on the surface, allowing the salts to enter surface water systems;
  • Chemical spills; and
  • Pesticide applications.

Flow Alteration

Surface and groundwater flow systems could be affected by withdrawals made for water use, wastewater and stormwater discharges, and the diversion of surface water flow for access road construction or stormwater control systems. A stormwater discharge permit might be required. Excavation activities and the extraction of geological materials could affect surface and groundwater flow. The interaction between surface water and groundwater could also be affected if the surface water and groundwater were hydrologically connected, potentially resulting in unwanted dewatering or recharging of water resources.