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SPK-2000-00614, Public Notice of Proposed Amendment to Bank Enabling Instrument for Elsie Gridley Mitigation Bank, Solano County, California.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Published June 13, 2024
Expiration date: 7/13/2024

Comment Period: June 13, 2024 – July 13, 2024

SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento and San Francisco Districts, (Corps) are evaluating a proposal to amend the existing bank enabling instrument (BEI) for Elsie Gridley Mitigation Bank to allow for and guide restoration activities generating mitigation credits within the “Phase 4” (Pasture 6) area of the bank, and to incorporate credit sale without a transfer language, procedures, and templates into the instrument. The amendment would result in the reestablishment of 84.11 acres of vernal pools/alkali playa pools (collectively, “vernal pool” credit type) and 40.46 acres of seasonal wetland swale/alkali mesic grassland (collectively “seasonal wetland” credit type”), within the Ulatis Creek Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC)-10 watershed. An additional 2.17 acres of seasonal wetlands would also be reestablished but would not be credited. The proposed BEI amendment would also allow for all remaining unsold credits from all phases of the bank to utilize South Pacific Division-approved credit sale (sale without a transfer) agreements.

This notice is to inform interested parties of the proposed activity and to solicit comments.

AUTHORITY: This amendment proposal is being evaluated under 33 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 332.8.

SPONSOR:      Wetland Resources, LLC

                         3223 Webster Street

                         San Francisco, California 94123

                         Contact: Mr. Ben Winslow, 415-441-5943

                         brwlaw@aol.com

LOCATION: The 323.05-acre Phase 4 project area of the 1814-acre Elsie Gridley Mitigation Bank is located in the southern half of Section 1 and the northeast corner of Section 12, Township 5 North, Range 1 East, and the southwest half of Section 6, Township 5 North, Range 2 East, Mount Diablo Base and Meridian, of the Dozier, California U.S. Geological Survey 7.5-minute quadrangle map, Latitude 38.303293°, Longitude -121.809687°, Solano County, California.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The restoration plan for the Phase 4 project includes grading and contouring of the site that would result in reestablishment of alkali mesic grassland, alkali playa pool, seasonal wetland swales, vernal pools, associated mound-intermound topography, and preservation of existing aquatic habitat. The restoration would reestablish 84.11 acres of vernal pools/alkali playa pools and 42.63 acres of seasonal wetland swale/alkali mesic grassland, of which 2.17 acres would not be credited to account for the loss of an equivalent acreage of agricultural drainages. In total, the restored habitats would generate 84.11 vernal pool reestablishment and 40.46 seasonal wetland reestablishment credits at the bank. The reestablished seasonal wetlands, although no longer providing species credits, would continue to serve as upland habitat for federally-listed species during drier months. The Phase 4 project area also includes 2.37 acres of existing preserved vernal pools and vernal marsh wetlands that would be avoided and would continue to be preserved. The acres of preserved aquatic resources in the Phase 4 area have already been evaluated to provide an equal amount of preservation credits at the bank.

The area that would be impacted by the proposed restoration was previously credited as California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense; CTS) upland and movement / Swainson’s hawk (Buteo swainsoni; SWHA) and burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia; BUOW) grassland foraging (CTS/SWHA/BUOW upland). As part of the Phase 4 project, 126.57 acres of existing CTS/SWHA/BUOW upland habitat would be permanently converted to wetland habitat types, and an equivalent amount of CTS/SWHA/BUOW upland credits would be deducted from the bank ledger. 40.46 seasonal wetland reestablishment and 84.11 vernal pool reestablishment credits would be added to the ledger. The remaining 2.17-acre difference between the credits to be deducted and those to be added consist of the previously mentioned existing agricultural drainage channels (currently credited as CTS/SWHA/BUOW upland), which would be converted to seasonal wetland but would not be credited.

The intent of the Phase 4 project is to restore a more natural landform to the project area that resembles the vernal pool landscape historically present at the bank property. The conceptual restoration design is based on reference sites, current site conditions, historic imagery, and a water budget model developed for the Phase 4 project. The Phase 4 project has been designed to restore degraded areas where natural wetlands were historically removed, while preserving existing sensitive aquatic habitat. This includes removing agricultural drainages that were installed to alter hydrology for agricultural production and incorporating mound-intermound topography as important upland features of vernal pool landscapes.

From a hydrologic and hydraulic perspective, regrading of the landscape and reformation of the pools and swales on the site would result in water hydrating the A and B horizon soils to provide habitat for aquatic species during the wet months of the year. The soils within the Phase 4 area are predominantly Solano-Pescadero soils consistent with what is found throughout the greater mitigation bank site. The soils found at the Elsie Gridley Mitigation Bank have some of the lowest water moisture requirements in the region to begin substantial ponding, and the site has the potential to support larger, deeper pools. Thus, it is anticipated that the reestablishment of a complex topography within the Phase 4 project area would lead to longer ponding in vernal pools after rain events. Reestablished vernal pools would be connected hydrologically through reestablished wetland swales. The depth and side slopes of the vernal pools would support vernal pool vegetation and the swales would be graded to pond and retain soil moisture during the wet season and function as upland habitat in the dry season. Alkali playa pools would be reestablished as the lowest points in the Phase 4 project area and the upland slopes built up around them to create deeper habitat suitable for California tiger salamander breeding. The upland areas surrounding the alkali playa pools would be gently sloped to create alkali mesic grassland habitat. The elevation of these upland areas would be contoured to support seasonal ponding during the wet season and upland habitat in the dry season.

The proposed landscape grading would delineate the project area into nine distinct subwatersheds, each contoured to gently slope towards the anticipated vernal pools and playa pools. These delineations adhere to the site’s historic drainage patterns. The design would ensure that both watershed runoff and direct precipitation find their way into the reestablished pools. The interconnected network of swales would serve as the conduit through which these pools interact, ultimately allowing water to drain towards the playa pools. The playa pools would be the gravitational focal points and lowest features within each subwatershed.

Mound-intermound topography would be reestablished throughout the Phase 4 project area to provide high-quality burrowing habitat that can support fossorial mammals and by association, California tiger salamander burrow usage. These uplands would mimic habitat historically present at the site and throughout the region.

Seed collected from vernal pools and alkali playa pools on other portions of the bank site would be used to seed these habitat types in the Phase 4 project area. Appropriate seed types may be propagated or purchased off-site if a sufficient amount of collected seed is unavailable. Seed would be distributed prior to or concurrent with the onset of the rainy season. If enough seed is not available the same year that construction is finished, additional seeding may be performed in the fall one to two years later. Seed would be distributed by hand-spreading or mechanical raking. Organic tackifier and/or water spraying may be used to increase adhesion of the seed to the soil.

The Phase 4 vernal pool service area is proposed to remain unmodified from the approved vernal pool service area detailed in the current executed BEI as amended. The Phase 4 seasonal wetland service area boundary is proposed to be defined by the following county boundaries and roadways:

• Solano County watersheds draining to Suisun Marsh and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; western boundary follows the Suisun Bay HUC-8;

• Eastern Contra Costa County watersheds draining to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; western boundary follows the Lower Sacramento HUC-8;

• North eastern Alameda County watersheds draining to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and north of Interstate 580 and Interstate 205; southwestern boundary follows the San Joaquin Delta HUC-8;

• Western San Joaquin County watersheds draining to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. North of Interstate 205 and then westerly of a line defined extending from the junction of Interstate 205 and Interstate 5 north along Interstate 5 to State Highway 4, easterly along Highway 4 to Highway 99, north along Highway 99 to Highway 88, northeasterly along Highway 88 to Highway 12 where it runs parallel then north to the Middle River-San Joaquin River and Bear Creek HUC-10 boundaries;

• Western Sacramento County watersheds draining to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; eastern boundaries include the Morrison Creek and American River HUC-10s;

• Southern Yolo County watersheds draining to the Sacramento River and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; northern boundaries include the Lower Cache Creek HUC-10, the South Fork Willow Slough HUC-10, and a portion of the Hungry Hollow Canal.

The associated bank location and service area maps provide additional details. A copy of the Sponsor’s Development Plan and Interim Management Plan, Elsie Gridley Mitigation Bank, Phase 4 Project, dated September 2023 is available online at the following location: https://ribits.ops.usace.army.mil/ords/f?p=107:278:1070629013698::::P278_BANK_ID:5117

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Environmental Setting: The majority of the Phase 4 project area was undisturbed until 1958. By 1974, extensive ground disturbance resulting from agricultural conversion had occurred, and most of the natural vernal pool landscape was gone. This converted farmland may have initially been used for dryland farming or hay production, but in recent decades and up to the present, its sole use has been pastureland for livestock. The existing annual grassland species assemblage within the Phase 4 project area likely developed and expanded as a result of agricultural leveling of the land to remove the historic vernal pool/swale and mound-intermound topography.

The Phase 4 project area exhibits a series of level terraces and slopes from west to east. A historic railroad right-of-way bisects the bank from the southwest to northeast and runs along the eastern boundary of the Phase 4 project area. The elevation on the Phase 4 project area is approximately 15 feet North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD88). The Phase 4 project area is bounded by Ulatis Creek in the northeast and Alamo Creek through the central portion of the bank. However, neither of these waterways are within the boundaries of the Phase 4 project area. These waterways are channelized and owned, managed, and maintained as flood control channels by Solano County Water Agency.

Water drains onto the Phase 4 project area from the north through culverts under Brown Road into onsite agricultural drainage ditches. However, these drainages do not provide hydrology to the 2.37 acres of existing preserved vernal pools and vernal marsh wetlands. These aquatic resources are sustained from primarily direct precipitation.

Habitats which could support occurrence of California tiger salamander, Delta green ground beetle (Elaphrus viridis), vernal pool tadpole shrimp (Lepidurus packardi), vernal pool fairy shrimp (Branchinecta lynchi), and Conservancy fairy shrimp (Branchinecta conservatio) are present within the Phase 4 project area. These habitats may be temporarily and/or permanently affected by the proposed restoration activities. Vernal pool tadpole shrimp have been observed in six existing vernal pools within the Phase 4 project area. Vernal pool fairy shrimp, Conservancy fairy shrimp, and Delta green ground beetle have not been documented within the Phase 4 project area. Additionally, although the Phase 4 project area has not been systematically surveyed for California tiger salamander, this species has been observed in reference pools adjacent to the Phase 4 project area. Therefore, it is assumed that CTS utilize and may be present within existing vernal pool and/or upland habitat in the Phase 4 project area.

Based on information provided by the Sponsor, a Department of the Army permit would not be required for the proposed restoration activities. 

OTHER GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORIZATIONS: The Interagency Review Team responsible for the review and approval of the proposed mitigation bank includes representatives from the Corps, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, State Water Resources Control Board, Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, and San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

HISTORIC PROPERTIES: Based on the available information (including Sponsor's report entitled Cultural Resources Study for the Elsie Gridley Preserve Mitigation Bank Project, dated January 31, 2005, and Addendum to “Cultural Resources Study for the Elsie Gridley Preserve Mitigation Bank Project”, Solano County, California, dated March 2016), no cultural resources were identified within the project's area of potential effect. If determined necessary, the Corps will initiate consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

ENDANGERED OR THREATENED SPECIES: Restoration activities that would occur as a result of the proposed BEI amendment may affect federally-listed endangered or threatened species. Critical habitat is not present within the Phase 4 project area. The Corps will initiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, as appropriate.

ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT: The proposed BEI amendment would not adversely affect Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) as defined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The above determinations are based on information provided by the Sponsor and our preliminary review.

EVALUATION FACTORS: The Corps is soliciting comments from the public, federal, state, and local agencies and officials, Native American tribes, and other interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of this proposed BEI amendment. Any comments received will be considered by the Corps to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and other public interest factors. Comments are used in the evaluation of the proposed amendment per 33 CFR Part 332.8.

SUBMITTING COMMENTS: Written comments, referencing Public Notice SPK-2000-00614 must be submitted via email to the office listed below on or before July 13, 2024.

Mr. Zachary Fancher

Sr. Project Manager

US Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District

Email: zachary.j.fancher@usace.army.mil

Telephone: (916) 537-6924

Attachments:  4 maps