Comments Period: July 8, 2019 – August 7, 2019
SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, (Corps) proposes a multi-tiered approach to Clean Water Act Section 404 (CWA 404), or “CWA 404 permit strategy,” for activities that involve a discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, and covered by the Placer County Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)/Natural Communities Conservation Plan (NCCP) proposed under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Placer County HCP requires approval of a species incidental take permit under Section 10 of the ESA from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). This notice is to inform interested parties and to solicit comments.
AUTHORITY: This permit strategy is being evaluated under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act for the discharge of dredged or fill material in waters of the United States.
LOCATION: The proposed permit strategy would be applicable within the Placer County HCP Plan Area, encompassing approximately 270,000 acres within western Placer County and eastern Sutter County. Within western Placer County, the Plan Area is bounded on the north by Nevada and Yuba County, on the east by the City of Auburn and California Highway 49, on the south by Sacramento County, and on the west by Sutter County. With the exception of activities conducted by the Placer County Water Agency (PCWA), the Plan Area in western Placer County excludes the Cities of Auburn, Rocklin, and Roseville and Town of Loomis. Within Sutter County, the Plan Area includes 1,724 acres along the Coon Creek floodplain, and 33 miles of Auburn Ravine, Coon Creek, Cross Canal, and East Side Canal. The Plan Area boundary can be seen on the enclosed 2018, Figure 1-1, Plan Area, Placer County Conservation Program – EIS/EIR, prepared by ICF (Attachment 1).
BACKGROUND AND RELATED DOCUMENTATION: The Placer County Conservation Program (PCCP) is a regional, comprehensive program intended to protect, enhance, and restore natural resources in western Placer County, while streamlining permitting for covered activities. Within this framework, the PCCP would achieve conservation goals and comply with state and federal environmental regulations while streamlining planning and permitting for anticipated urban and rural growth and the construction and maintenance of infrastructure needed to serve Placer County’s population.
In 1998, the Placer County Board of Supervisors directed the Placer County Planning Department to prepare a program to implement the open space and conservation goals and policies of the 1994 Placer County General Plan. This program, now known as the Placer Legacy Open Space and Agricultural Conservation Program (Placer Legacy Program), was approved in June 2000. Implementation programs from the general plan provided the impetus for initiating the PCCP. The Placer Legacy Program further refined the direction provided by the general plan, including the decision to prepare an NCCP and a comprehensive program to address wetlands and streams that became the County Aquatic Resources Program (CARP). The PCCP was initiated in 2001 after the Board voted unanimously to sign the PCCP Planning Agreement (Planning Agreement), which included the work program for the PCCP. In 2007, the PCCP Ad Hoc committee was formed consisting of two Board members from Placer County and two Council members from the City of Lincoln. The Ad Hoc Committee was created to engage the decision-makers and to develop a consistent framework, a conservation map, and priorities. In 2008, the Board unanimously adopted the Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations to work with partners (City of Lincoln, PCWA, and South Placer Regional Transportation Authority (SPRTA)), and to coordinate with the public and resource agencies to finish the work plan and prepare a second draft. In spring 2013, a draft reserve map was developed by the Ad Hoc Committee and County staff. That map provided the foundation for the preparation of the proposed conservation strategy.
The 2001 Planning Agreement was entered into by the County, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, USFWS, and NMFS. The agreement identifies the Permit Applicants, the Program Areas and phases, regulatory goals, the planning process, guidelines for plan development, commitment of resources to complete the program, and other miscellaneous provisions.
The process used to develop the PCCP relied upon many of the same principles from the Placer Legacy Program, which included independent scientific input and analysis, extensive public participation, and advice from key stakeholder groups. To assist in the development of the PCCP, the County formed working groups consisting of citizens (the Biological Stakeholder Working Group [BWG] and Finance Committee), agency staff, and science advisors.
The PCCP comprises three integrated program components.
- The Western Placer County Habitat Conservation Plan and Natural Community Conservation Plan (Plan), a joint habitat conservation plan and natural community conservation plan (HCP/NCCP) that would protect fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats and fulfill the requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA), and the California Natural Community Conservation Planning Act (NCCPA).
- The Western Placer County Aquatic Resources Program (CARP) that would protect streams, wetlands, and other water resources and fulfill the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and analogous state laws and regulations.
- The Western Placer County In-Lieu Fee Program (ILF Program) that fulfills compensatory mitigation requirements under Section 404 of the CWA.
The Placer County HCP proposes to cover fourteen covered species of wildlife, including nine that are state and/or federally listed as threatened or endangered. The five permittees under the PCCP are Placer County, the City of Lincoln, SPRTA, PCWA, and Placer Conservation Authority (PCA). The Sacramento District has been coordinating with the USFWS and permittees, and others, to develop and implement a “streamlined” approach to permitting under CWA 404 that encompasses a number of different permit types and processes. The Corps’ CWA 404 permit strategy is intended to provide for better assurances and quicker permit decisions for the regulated public, while protecting aquatic resources to an equal or greater level consistent with existing regulations, policies and processes.
Before the USFWS can issue an incidental take permit under Section 10 of the ESA, the agency is required to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As an action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, the PCCP requires the USFWS prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under NEPA that will include impact analyses of all PCCP covered activities within the Plan Area, for the duration of the Placer County HCP (50 years, as proposed). The Corps is a cooperating agency on this EIS, which along with associated documents including the draft Placer County HCP and a draft CARP, provides the most comprehensive description and assessment of the proposed CWA 404 permit strategy. The Corps intends to use the EIS in a programmatic manner to underpin its CWA 404 permit strategy.
The timing of this public notice has been aligned within the comment period of the Draft EIS for the PCCP issued on June 21, 2017, for a 60-day public comment period. The CWA 404 permit strategy is contained in Appendix C of the PCCP Draft EIS. The Draft EIS can be viewed at https://www.placer.ca.gov/3362/Placer-County-Conservation-Program.
OVERVIEW OF CWA 404 PERMIT STRATEGY: A multi-tiered approach to CWA 404 permitting will address activities which involve discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the U.S. covered by the Placer County HCP. Attachment 2, CWA 404 Permit Strategy Aligned with the Placer County Conservation Program, provides a summary of the permit strategy. The strategy consists of the use of:
- A programmatic general permit (PGP) founded on the CARP to be implemented via local ordinance, and designed to reduce duplication with that program, for activities with minimal individual and cumulative effects on the aquatic environment. A draft PGP is provided as Attachment 3.
- A regional general permit (RGP) for minimal impact activities conducted by PCWA under the Placer County HCP. A draft RGP is provided as Attachment 4.
- A procedure for issuing Letters of Permission (LOPs) for activities with more than minimal, but less than significant, effects on the human environment, including aquatic resources. A draft procedure for issuing LOPs is provided as Attachment 5.
- An abbreviated process for issuing standard permits (SPs) for other activities consistent with the PCCP that may have a significant impact on the human environment, and require the preparation of an EIS under NEPA. A preliminary approach for processing abbreviated SPs is described on pg. 4 of Attachment 2. The Final EIS would include additional details on process and timeline, as well as the Corps’ Record of Decision (ROD) for the EIS.
- An RGP for minimal impact activities conducted under the PCCP In-Lieu Fee Program. A draft RGP is provided as Attachment 6.
Following public input on this public notice and the Draft EIS/EIR for the PCCP, and coordination with the Plan Partners, resource agencies and others, and review of any new information that becomes available, the Corps’ Sacramento District CWA 404 permit strategy and final draft permit instruments will be updated and included in the Final EIS/EIR for the PCCP.
Environmental Setting. Information regarding the environmental setting of the PCCP Plan Area can be found in Chapter 3 of the Draft EIR/EIS.
Mitigation. The Corps requires that applicants consider and use all reasonable and practical measures to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources. If the applicant is unable to avoid or minimize all impacts, the Corps may require compensatory mitigation. On March 14, 2019, the Western Placer County ILF Program Enabling Instrument was fully executed between Placer County (Program Sponsor), the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Corps. The ILF program is intended to provide compensatory mitigation for impacts to waters of the U.S., including wetlands, under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act for covered activities under the PCCP.
OTHER GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORIZATIONS: The issuance of the proposed PGP, RGPs, and LOP procedure would not require other governmental authorizations; however, individual water quality certification or a waiver thereof, as required under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, is required for activities authorized under the CWA 404 permit strategy. The Corps will request programmatic water quality certification under Section 401 of the CWA from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board for all activities under the CWA 404 permit strategy (as noted in Attachment 2).
HISTORIC PROPERTIES: The issuance of the proposed PGP, RGPs, and LOP procedure have no potential to affect cultural resources; however, authorization of activities under the CWA 404 permit strategy may affect cultural resources. The Corps intends to coordinate with the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) for the preparation of a Programmatic Agreement for compliance with Section 106 of the NHPA. Until/unless a Programmatic Agreement is executed, the Corps will initiate consultation with the SHPO under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), as appropriate.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The issuance of the proposed PGP and LOP procedure would have no effect on threatened or endangered species; however, authorization of activities under the CWA 404 permit strategy may affect threatened or endangered species. The Corps will initiate programmatic consultation with the USFWS under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act for coverage of activities authorized under the CWA 404 permit strategy.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT: The issuance of the proposed PGP and LOP procedure would not adversely affect Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) as defined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act; however, authorization of activities under the CWA 404 permit strategy may adversely affect EFH. The Corps will consult with the NMFS, as appropriate, for activities that may adversely affect EFH.
The above determinations are based on available information and our preliminary review.
EVALUATION FACTORS: The decision whether to issue the proposed PGP and RGPs will be based on an evaluation of the probable impacts, including cumulative impacts, on the public interest. That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. The benefits, which reasonably may be expected to accrue from use of the CWA 404 permit strategy, must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. All factors which may be relevant to the PGP and RGPs will be considered, including the cumulative effects thereof; among those are conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historic properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shoreline erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food and fiber production, mineral needs, consideration of property ownership and, in general, the needs and welfare of the people. The proposed PGP and RGPs impact on the public interest will include application of the Section 404(b)(1) guidelines promulgated by the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (40 CFR Part 230).
The Corps is soliciting comments from the public, Federal, State, and local agencies and officials, Indian tribes, and other interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of this proposed CWA 404 permit strategy. Any comments received will be considered by the Corps to determine whether to issue the proposed PGP, RGPs, and/or LOP procedure, and/or to implement the proposed abbreviated process for issuing SPs. To make this decision, comments are used to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and other public interest factors listed above. Comments will be considered by the Sacramento District Corps as a cooperating agency on the PCCP EIS/EIR, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity.
SUBMITTING COMMENTS: Written comments, referencing Public Notice SPK-1995-00386, must be submitted to the office listed below on or before August 7, 2019.
Lisa M. Gibson, Regulatory Permit Specialist
US Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District
1325 J Street, Room 1350
Sacramento, CA 95814-2992
The Corps is particularly interested in receiving comments related to the proposal's probable impacts on the affected aquatic environment and the secondary and cumulative effects. Anyone may request, in writing, that a public hearing be held to consider this application. Requests shall specifically state, with particularity, the reason(s) for holding a public hearing. If the Corps determines that the information received in response to this notice is inadequate for thorough evaluation, a public hearing may be warranted. If a public hearing is warranted, interested parties will be notified of the time, date, and location. Please note that all comment letters received are subject to release to the public through the Freedom of Information Act. If you have questions or need additional information please contact the Corps' Regulatory Permit Specialist, Lisa M. Gibson, at email@example.com, or 916-557-5288.
Attachment 1: PCCP Plan Area
Attachment 2: CWA 404 Permit Strategy Aligned with the PCCP
Attachment 3: Draft Programmatic General Permit, Minimal Impact Covered Activities Under the Placer County Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan
Attachment 4: Draft Regional General Permit, Minimal Impact Activities Conducted by the Placer County Water Agency Under the Placer County Habitat Conservation Plan
Attachment 5: Draft Regional General Permit, Minimal Impact Activities Conducted under the Placer County Conservation Program In-Lieu Fee Program
Attachment 6: Draft Letter of Permission Procedures, Covered Activities Under the Placer County Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan With Less than Significant Impact