Comments Period: September 11, 2015 – October 26, 2015
SUBJECT: Notice of application for a Department of the Army permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, NOA of Draft EIS and Notice of Public Meetings for the Panoche Valley Solar project, Sacramento County, California. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Pacific Division, (Corps) is evaluating a permit application for the construction of a 247-MW solar facility, 0.121 acres of waters of the U.S. This notice is to inform interested parties of: the publishing of the Draft EIS; the location, date and time of the public meeting; and to solicit comments on the proposed activities. This notice may also be viewed at the Corps web site at www.spk.usace.army.mil/Media/RegulatoryPublicNotices.aspx and http://www.spd.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/PublicNoticesandReferences.aspx.
DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT: The Corps has prepared a Draft EIS pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to analyze the direct, indirect and cumulative effects associated with the implementation of four (4) on-site and one (1) off-site alternative for the construction of a solar facility. Pursuant to the NEPA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) published a notice in the Federal Register on September 11, 2015 (80 FR 54785), informing the public of the availability of the Draft EIS.
AUTHORITY: This application is being evaluated under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 for structures or work in or affecting navigable waters of the United States and/or Section 404 of the Clean Water Act for the discharge of dredged or fill material in waters of the United States.
DRAFT EIS AVAILABILITY: The Draft EIS is available for review in the following formats:
o Corps’ website at: http://www.spk.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Permitting/EnvironmentalImpactStatements.aspx
o Compact Disks are available per request from the Corps by contacting Lisa M. Gibson, by phone at 916-557-5288, by email at Lisa.M.Gibson2@usace.army.mil; or by mail at 1325 J Street, Room 1350, Sacramento, California 95864
• Hard Copies are available upon request at the address above and will be available at the following locations:
o Panoche Inn, 29960 Panoche Road, Paicines, California 95043
o San Benito County Free Library, 470 5th Street, Hollister, California 95023
COMMENT PERIOD: The Draft EIS is available for public comment for 45-days. The comment period for the Draft EIS will end on October 26, 2015.
PUBLIC MEETINGS: Two public meetings for the Draft EIS will be held, as follows:
October 6, 2015, 6 pm to 8 pm: Veterans Memorial Building, 649 San Benito Street, Room 204, Hollister, California 95023.
October 7, 2015, 6 pm to 8 pm: Panoche School, 31441 Panoche Road, Paicines, California 95043
PERMIT APPLICATION: In addition to soliciting comments on the Draft EIS, the Corps is also soliciting comments on a pending permit application for the proposed Panoche Valley Solar project. Under its regulatory program, the Corps will complete a decision for a Department of the Army permit for the discharge of dredged and/or fill material for the proposed project following the completion of NEPA process.
AUTHORITY: This application is being evaluated under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act for the discharge of dredged and/or fill material in waters of the United States.
APPLICANT: Panoche Valley Solar, LLC., Attn: Mr. Eric Cherniss, 845 Oak Grove Avenue, Suite 202, Menlo Park, California 94024
LOCATION: The approximately 5,020-acre project site is located approximately 0.75 miles north of Panoche Road, east and west of Little Panoche Road, Latitude 36.63149° North, Longitude 120.86622° West, in San Benito County, California, and can be seen on the CA-Mercey Hot Springs Topographic Quadrangle.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The applicant is proposing to construct a 247 MW solar facility on approximately 2,506 acres of the proposed project site. The proposed project would result in the discharge of fill material into 0.121 acres of waters of the U.S. consisting of 0.001 acre of Las Aguilas Creek for a road crossing and 0.12 acre of three unnamed ephemeral drainages for grading, road crossings, and solar panels.
The proposed project would include the construction of the following: grading, solar arrays, perimeter roads, substation, switching station, operations and management building, loop-in tubular steel poles, trenching and foundation installation, perimeter fencing, and construction of a new fence. In addition, the applicant is proposing to construct primary and secondary telecommunication upgrades to interconnect the proposed project, which would not impact any waters of the U.S. Primary telecommunication upgrades include installation of optical ground wire along 17 miles of the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Panoche-Moss Landing 230 kV transmission line, between the new proposed substation and the PG&E Panoche Substation in Fresno County. Where the existing 230 kV lines cross under two existing 500 kV transmission lines, the applicant is proposing all-dielectric self-supporting fiber for approximately 4,650 feet on 12 existing wood distribution poles north of the 230 kV transmission line. The proposed secondary telecommunication upgrades would include establishment of a secondary telecommunication path, consisting of a microwave communication system, to ensure system reliability. The secondary telecommunication upgrades would include constructing a new 100-foot microwave tower at the project site and at PG&E’s Helm Substation in Fresno County and collocating microwave equipment on existing microwave towers on Call Mountain and Panoche Mountain.
The proposed project would also include preservation of 24,176 acres of conservation lands on the proposed project site (2,514 acre Valley Floor Conservation Lands) and on two adjacent off-site locations (10,772 acre Valadeao Ranch Conservation Lands and 10,890 acre Silver Creek Ranch Conservation Lands). In order to compensate for the proposed impacts to waters of the U.S., the applicant is proposing to enhance 12.11 acres of waters of the U.S. through the construction of three ponds containing habitat for California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), debris removal from ephemeral streams in 9 areas, and the installation of cattle exclusion fencing adjacent to Panoche Creek.
The Draft EIS and attached drawings provide additional project details.
Environmental Setting. The 2,668 acre proposed project site and 2,514 acre Valley Floor Conservation Lands contain approximately 32.22 acres of potential waters of the U.S., consisting of intermittent and ephemeral drainages. The proposed telecommunication upgrade areas contain approximately 0.03 acre of potential waters of the U.S., consisting of three ephemeral drainages. The proposed project site is bordered by rangeland on the north and south, by the Gabilan Range on the west, and by the Panoche Hills on the east. The elevation ranges from approximately 1,200 feet above mean sea level (msl) near the southeastern end to approximately 1,400 feet above msl near the western end of the proposed project site. Panoche Creek and Las Aguilas creek flow through the proposed project site. During the past 40 years, the proposed project site has been utilized for cattle grazing. Prior to the cattle grazing, crop production occurred over much of the site. The PG&E Panoche-Moss Landing 230 kV transmission line crosses the proposed project site in a generally east-west direction on approximately 100-foot-tall, steel lattice towers.
Alternatives. The applicant has provided information concerning project alternatives, which is located in Appendix B of the Draft EIS. Additional information concerning project alternatives may be available from the applicant or their agent. The Draft EIS evaluates the environmental effects of 4 on-site and 1 off-site alternative. All reasonable project alternatives, in particular those which may be less damaging to the aquatic environment, will be considered.
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. The applicant has proposed to construct three ponds, totaling 0.50 acre as habitat for California tiger salamander, enhance 0.40 acre of ephemeral channels through the removal of debris from 9 locations, and to install 0.35 mile of livestock exclusion fencing to enhance approximately 11.16 acres of potential waters of the U.S.
OTHER GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORIZATIONS: Water quality certification or a waiver, as required under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board is required for this project. The applicant has applied for certification.
HISTORIC PROPERTIES: The Corps will initiate consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act for any impacts to cultural resource listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The proposed project may affect Federally-listed endangered or threatened species or their critical habitat. The Corps has initiated consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT: The proposed project 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 applicant and our preliminary review.
EVALUATION FACTORS: The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the described activity on the public interest. That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. The benefit, which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the described activity, must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. All factors which may be relevant to the described activity 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 activity's 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 activity. Any comments received will be considered by the Corps to determine whether to issue, modify, condition, or deny a permit for this proposal. 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 are used in the preparation of an Environmental Assessment and/or an Environmental Impact Statement 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 SPN-2009-00443 must be submitted to the office listed below on or before October 26, 2015.
Lisa Gibson, Project Manager
US Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District
1325 J Street, Room 1350
Sacramento, California 95814-2922
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 applicant or the Corps' project manager Lisa Gibson, 916-557-5288, Lisa.M.Gibson2@usace.army.mil.
Attachments: 10 drawings