REGIONAL — The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) recent letter on a solar development proposed for North Livermore drilled down on various concerns with the project’s draft environmental impact review (DEIR).
As a trustee agency with responsibility under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the CDFW offers comments on projects that could impact fish, plant and wildlife resources. In an Oct. 30 letter addressed to the Alameda County Planning Department and signed by CDFW Regional Manager Gregg Erickson, the CDFW listed a host of concerns associated with the DEIR for the Aramis Solar Energy Generation and Storage Project — a mostly contiguous 533-acre site located at Manning Road and North Livermore Avenue. Those concerns centered around the project’s proposed water-retention basins, fencing, ground boring, and overall impact on wildlife.
The state agency’s report also expressed its concern that the DEIR did not require significant compensation for loss of habitat, which the CDFW has the authority to mandate.
“The draft EIR … acknowledges that the project involves substantial changes to the site conditions that would adversely affect its habitat characteristics and, therefore, a broad range of environmental and species and habitat protection laws, policies, programs and regulations apply to the project, yet the draft EIR provides very little, if any, compensatory mitigation,” wrote Erickson.
The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management defines “compensatory mitigation” as a project proponent’s activities, monetary payments or in-kind contributions to conduct off-site actions that are intended to offset adverse impacts of a proposed action on-site. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the mitigation sequence is a three-part process — avoid, minimize and compensate — but the agency notes “the amount and quality of compensatory mitigation may not substitute for avoiding and minimizing impacts.”
The wildlife agency explained that it believed the project would reduce and adversely modify habitat for native pollinators, including the western bumble bee, which is now listed under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). Fencing of the project offered another point of concern, as the 7-foot wood and wire barriers would exclude mammals, such as the San Joaquin kit fox and the American badger. The CDFW further noted birds can collide with the fences and become tangled in the wires.
The CDFW stated the DEIR was highly inadequate in regard to its proposed measures for detecting the California tiger salamander, and added that its site maintenance is inhospitable to the burrowing owl. The DEIR restricts the use of rodenticides and poisons, but as the CDFW notes, it recommends the use of zinc phosphide, which is technically a rodenticide according to a pest notes publication by the University of California. The CDFW also outlined additional concerns in regard to the impact on the avian populations and streambed alterations.
To avoid and minimize these impacts, the CDFW called for the DEIR to assume the presence of endangered species, such as the California tiger salamander and the red-legged frog, and require the project proponent to provide compensatory mitigation for impacts to special-status species. It noted that burrowing owl conservation lands should be placed under a conservation easement, an endowment should be funded for managing the lands, and a long-term management plan should be prepared and implemented.
“When we have a conservation easement over something, it’s protected in perpetuity from development or any kind of construction, and it’s managed for the species,” said Marcia Grefsrud, CDFW environmental scientist. “Maybe in the old days, it didn’t have an endowment, but now we make sure there’s enough money to manage it. That includes grazing, putting in new fencing, repairs and such.”
Grefsrud stated that the easement land wouldn’t necessarily be contiguous to the proposed project area.
Regarding the kit fox, the CDFW strongly advised the project proponent obtain “take coverage” for CESA-listed species and report to the CDFW if dead foxes are found by the project site. “Take” is defined by the Environmental Species Act as “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect threatened or endangered species.” An Incidental Take Permit allows a permittee to take a CESA-listed species if conditions are met. These permits are most commonly issued for construction, utility, transportation and other infrastructure-related projects. Permittees must implement species-specific minimization and avoidance measures and fully mitigate the impacts of the project.
On the bumble bees, the CDFW recommended a qualified entomologist familiar with the species behavior and life history conduct surveys to determine its presence or absence.
In addition, the CDFW recommended the DEIR’s Avian Monitoring Plan be provided to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the CDFW for review, comment and approval.
“Due to the potential presence of CESA-listed species within and surrounding the project area and the potential for project-related take, including but not limited to, installation of exclusion fencing, grading, trenching, construction and operation of sediment basins and use of water trucks, CDFW advises that the project proponent obtain a CESA permit … in advance of project implementation,” Erickson continued. “Issuance of a CESA permit is subject to CEQA documentation; therefore, the EIR should specify impacts, mitigation measures and fully describe a mitigation, monitoring and reporting program.”
Erickson concluded by noting that early consultation is encouraged, as significant modification to the project and mitigation measures may be required in order to obtain the CESA permit.
Bruce Jensen, Alameda County land-use planner, oversees the environmental review process. He expects to have the final EIR (FEIR) published this Friday or early next week. He noted there is a 10-day requirement period during which time the county must respond to all federal and state agencies that submitted comments on the DEIR. A public hearing before the Board of Zoning (BZA) will follow.
“We’re going to be addressing virtually every point in that (CDFW) letter, as well as some other letters we’ve received that talk about biological issues, in the final EIR,” Jensen said.
He expected the hearing date to fall on Nov. 24.
“At that meeting, we would be presenting the total EIR, both the draft and its final, which together comprise the entire environmental analysis record,” he said. “And (the BZA) could make a decision at that meeting.”