The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), Jacksonville District has published a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate the A-1 Shallow Flow Equalization Basin (FEB) project proposed by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). The document is available for public review and comment through August 5, 2013.
The SFWMD has requested a Department of the Army permit to construct a shallow FEB on the A-1 project site in the Everglades Agricultural Area. The site is approximately 16,150 acres between U.S. Highway 27 and the Holey Land Wildlife Management Area and was formerly used as farm land. Excess phosphorus discharged into the Everglades Protection Area (EPA) has caused exceedances in the water quality criterion and ecological impacts within the Everglades. The FEB is designed to improve the phosphorus treatment performance in Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) 2 and 3/4 by retaining and then delivering water to the STAs with improved flow and timing prior to discharge in the EPA.
The Corps’ regulatory responsibilities were initially authorized under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, which provided for the protection and maintenance of the nation’s navigable waterways. Historically, the EAA was Everglades wetlands until it was ditched and drained. Today, much of the EAA canal system, including the extensive network of ditches and canals along the perimeter of the A-1 project site, is considered navigable waters. Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the Corps is responsible for regulating dredge and fill activities in waters of the United States, including many wetlands. Once the land on the site was no longer used for agriculture, wetland plants and hydrology returned. Thus, the site currently contains freshwater wetlands. Additionally, a number of federally listed threatened and endangered species use the project site.
The final EIS evaluates construction of a shallow FEB, which is the applicant’s preferred alternative. Other alternatives evaluated include the No Action Alternative, a deep FEB and an STA. The Corps analyzed these alternatives to determine if the applicant’s preferred alternative is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative and within the public’s interest.
The proposed shallow FEB is 15,000 acres with a maximum operating depth of approximately four feet. The project would include perimeter levees about 20 miles long and 8-10 feet high and operable water control structures to control water levels and flows into and out of the FEB. At an estimated construction cost of about $60 million, it is the least costly of the alternatives considered; it is also anticipated to have the least impact on wetlands in terms of acres. The applicant has proposed on site compensatory mitigation for unavoidable wetland impacts, to include hydrologic and vegetation benefits within the project footprint.
The project is being developed with input and consensus from federal, state and local agencies and the public, as well as ongoing coordination with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. Issues under discussion include wetlands, water quality, flood protection, wildlife and habitat and threatened and endangered species. A permit decision is required to comply with federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act and others. A number of state and local requirements would also apply.
The EIS is available for public review and comment on Jacksonville District’s website, www.saj.usace.army.mil. Click on Missions, then Regulatory, then Items of Interest. Comments must be received by August 5, 2013 and may be submitted to project manager Alisa Zarbo by email: Alisa.A.Zarbo@usace.army.mil or to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, ATTN: CESAJ-RD-SP (Alisa Zarbo), 4400 PGA Boulevard, Suite 500, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410.
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