LIVERMORE — In a recent letter to the county, the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (SFWO) called for the Aramis Solar Energy Generation and Storage project applicant to acquire an “incidental take permit” for the federally listed species likely to be killed during construction.
The Jan. 26 letter directed to Alameda County Planner Andrew Young named the California red-legged frog, the California tiger salamander and the San Joaquin kit fox as threatened species that could die or become injured should the project set for North Livermore along Cayetano Creek commence.
SFWO, a branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS), concluded that Intersect Power, the Aramis applicant, should therefore submit a habitat conservation plan that minimizes and mitigates harm to the impacted species and obtain the incidental take permit from the federal agency prior to commencing construction. To address the permanent habitat loss from the Aramis project, the USF&WS further called for “permanent habitat conservation as a mitigation measure.”
SFWO spelled out concerns with the project’s final environmental impact review (EIR), which captured surveys on species’ habitats. It noted that, had the county followed the Service’s “Revised Guidance on Site Assessments and Field Surveys for the California,” the agency would have confirmed that the surveys were inadequate.
“The proposed project site is dominated by upland habitats, which the California red-legged frog utilizes for dispersing, foraging, sheltering and aestivating,” SFWO wrote. “Therefore, protocol-level surveys that focused on only a portion of the nonbreeding aquatic habitats near the project site — and did not survey all known and potential breeding habitat within dispersal distance of the project site — would not necessarily detect California red-legged frog use of the upland habitats within the project site.”
SFWO dispelled the notion that the tiger salamander was unlikely to occur in disked farmland areas used for “intensive agriculture” by pointing to a series of aerial photos that documented the species in similar habitats.
“Given the numerous Central California tiger salamander detections within 1.3 miles of the proposed project site, the availability of suitable dispersal and upland refugia habitat throughout the project site, and the lack of protocol-level surveys demonstrating the absence of the Central California tiger salamander from the project site, the Service believes the Central California tiger salamander is highly likely to occur within the project site,” wrote SFWO.
In addition, the project’s final EIR outlines procedures for kit fox dens to include destroying inactive dens (to discourage reuse) or performing an on-site passive relocation of active dens. SFWO stated these methods would reduce the potential for killing the kit fox but said the destruction of potential dens or excluding the species from active dens would still be considered “harass and harm” under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
“Therefore, the proposed excavation and destruction of potential San Joaquin kit fox dens and implementation of an on-site passive relocation program would require an incidental take permit from the Service,” continued SFWO.
Local environmental advocacy groups, such as Save North Livermore Valley (SNLV) and the Friends of Livermore, chimed in last week to express their continued duress with the project.
“The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has now added its authoritative voice to the debate and reached the same conclusion as other public agencies that the environmental review of the Aramis project has been deficient,” SNLV Steering Committee Chair Chris O’Brien said. “Injuring and killing endangered foxes, frogs and salamanders is obviously not the path Alameda County should take in seeking to achieve its clean energy goals. The Board of Supervisors needs to bring this deeply flawed project and process to an end.”
Michael Fredrich representing the Friends of Livermore said that the county has failed to apply common sense and sound public policy in reviewing the solar project.
“Unlike neighboring Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties, Alameda County has not amended its General Plan to authorize utility scale solar power facilities solely in rural areas where they would pose the least conflict with wildlife habitat, open space, agricultural land and scenic resources, as well as comply with voter-approved Measure D,” Fredrich said. “Instead, Alameda County worked closely with Intersect Power to advance the Aramis project in North Livermore Valley – where it is abundantly clear that massive industrial solar power plants should not be located.”
O’Brien further noted that other groups, such as the East Bay Regional Park District, Golden Gate Audubon Society and Save Mount Diablo, which have closely examined the Aramis project, have found Intersect Power and Alameda County planners failed to acknowledge and account for the project’s significant and negative impact on several threatened species.
Intersect Power has not offered any compensatory mitigation for the Aramis project’s destruction of habitat for threatened species. When asked if Intersect Power would offer compensatory mitigation, seek the take permits or provide a conservation plan, the company’s representatives issued the following statement:
“Intersect Power stands firmly behind the quality of the Aramis project’s biological survey work, which was conducted over multiple years by experts, and included protocol-level and focused surveys for amphibians and other taxa. There is no potential breeding habitat for California red-legged frog or California tiger salamander on the Aramis project site, and the comprehensive surveys did not detect any frog or salamander individuals. San Joaquin kit foxes also are not present at the site, and haven’t been seen in Alameda County for decades. Intersect Power sited the Aramis project on its particular plot of land because of its low potential for harm and its high potential for local benefits.
“Intersect Power holds the wildlife agencies in the highest regard and takes any feedback they provide very seriously. In response to recent concerns expressed by representatives of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that cryptic amphibian species, like California tiger salamander, are difficult to detect, we are in close consultation with the agencies to collaborate on the best path forward for the species and the project. We look forward to working closely with agency staff, and we thank them for their service protecting biodiversity.
“The Aramis project is one of a handful of locations where modifying current land management practices in favor of renewable energy generation has the potential to improve the quality of habitat for a wide range of species while directly offsetting fossil fuel generation in Alameda County. The solar arrays have been deliberately designed to avoid areas with higher potential habitat value, namely Cayetano Creek, which will be protected from development activities.
“Intersect Power is proud to have support for the Aramis project from leading environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Audubon Society.”
To review the entire SFWO letter, visit bit.ly/Indy_SFWOletter.