TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: The Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has received an application for a Department of the Army permit pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. §1344) and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (33 U.S.C. §403) as described below:
APPLICANT: Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) – District 7
Attn: Ms. Virginia Creighton
11201 N. McKinley Drive
Tampa, Florida 33612
WATERWAY AND LOCATION: The project would affect waters of the United States associated with Old Tampa Bay. The project site is located at SR 60/Courtney Campbell Causeway (CCC), west of Ben T. Davis Beach, in Sections 11 and 14, Township 29S, Range 17W, Tampa, Hillsborough County, Florida.
Directions to the site are as follows: From I-275, exit 39 toward FL-60 West, merge onto SR 589 (Veterans Expressway)/SR 60/CCC W. Take exit 2A for SR 60/CCC West, proceed approximately 2 miles. The site is just west of the Ben T. Davis Beach on SR 60/CCC West.
APPROXIMATE CENTRAL COORDINATES: Latitude 27.973028°
Basic: The basic project purpose is estuarine and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) restoration and enhancement.
Overall: The overall project purpose is to construct a water quality improvement project to restore and enhance estuarine conditions favorable to the growth and expansion of SAV habitat which would benefit the northeast region of the Old Tampa Bay and would be utilized for SAV mitigation credits on future FDOT projects within this watershed.
EXISTING CONDITIONS: The proposed project is located along a segment of the existing CCC, which was built in the 1930s. The CCC is an earthen roadway located directly within the waters of the United States, and the CCC consists of two bridged segments over the Old Tampa Bay. Northeastern Old Tampa Bay, north of the CCC, currently has several small to large water basins flowing into the area. However, connection with Old Tampa Bay is constricted due to the CCC. The applicant evaluated the existing conditions of the area to be directly affected, as well as the surrounding areas. Currently, there is a pattern of seagrass species and presence that occurs north of the CCC that is best explained by the salinity regime that currently occurs in that area. Hydrologic flow and residence times have been altered by the CCC, which has placed stressors on seagrass meadows within the assessment area. The current state of the seagrass resources in the assessment area can be most likely attributed to the lack of tidal flushing causing the differences in seagrass species and abundance. The current community type is best described as unconsolidated substrate, as defined by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) as estuarine unconsolidated substrates, which are mineral and detrital based natural communities, generally characterized as expansive, relatively open areas of subtidal, intertidal, and supratidal zones which lack dense populations of sessile plant and animal species. Unconsolidated substrates are unsolidified material and include mud, mud/sand, sand or shell. The current pattern of seagrasses is such that shoal grass (Halodule wrightii) and widgeon grass (Ruppia maritime) are the dominant species north of the CCC, while mixtures of turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum), shoal grass, and manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme) dominate the seagrass areas south of the CCC. The applicant evaluated and differentiated the site into the following Stratum: Stratum A, which is the area on the north side nearest the existing bridge, is approximately 89 acres; Stratum B, to the east of Stratum A, is approximately 123 acres; and Stratum C, located east of Stratum B and the furthest from the existing bridge, is approximately108 acres. Stratum A has a mix of shoal grass and widgeon grass with the abundance consistently greater than 75 percent. The seagrass abundance in strata C and B was found to be inconsistent with seagrass meadows farther to the west in closer proximity to the existing CCC bridge. The eastern portion of both Stratum C and B were characterized as having similar seagrass coverage; however, they are comprised primarily of widgeongrass, which is an ephemeral species. Therefore, seagrasses within the eastern portions of Stratum C and B, are of reduced persistence. Approximately 58 and 66 acres in strata B and C, respectively, were found to be comprised of 25 percent or less seagrass abundance, again, predominately widgeon grass. The increasing pattern of dominance of widgeon grass in the eastern stratum north of the CCC suggests that salinities are lower and more variable in the areas furthest away from the tidal influences of the open waters of Old Tampa Bay. The sole vegetative community within the permanent and temporary construction zone is drift algae.
PROPOSED WORK: The applicant seeks authorization to impact waters of the United States in order to open a section of the CCC to tidal flushing. The proposed work involves removing an approximate 229-linear-foot segment of the CCC, west of the Ben T. Davis beach, and constructing an approximate 229-linear-foot low-relief bridge in its place. The construction work includes installation of floating turbidity barriers and temporary sheet piles in order to remove approximately 229 linear feet of causeway fill and traverse the new channel with a low level bridge. The proposed project would create waters of the United States in the amount of 0.85 acre under the bridge to assure sufficient tidal exchange through the opening. The project involves 0.54 acre of dredging, permanent placement of 204 cubic yards of riprap within 0.12 acre to stabilize the shoreline in the new channel, and 0.30 acre of temporary fill for installation of sheet piles and placement of fill material behind the sheet pile during construction. No seagrass or wetland impacts are proposed, and at least a 25-foot average buffer would be provided between work limits and established seagrasses south of the proposed bridge. The new channel will provide additional flushing, reduced residence times, provide more appropriate salinity regimes, and provide water quality improvement within approximately 320 acres of estuarine habitat. Other positive effects of improved flushing include restoration of conditions favorable for seagrass regrowth in approximately 81-124 acres (areas with sparse seagrass or with only widgeon grass based on data from SWFWMD and in-water surveys in December 2014 and April 2016), and reduced nitrogen concentrations as Old Tampa Bay is listed as state impaired water body for nitrogen.
The applicant proposes to utilize the identified enhancement areas north of the CCC for seagrass mitigation. Installation of the proposed approximate 229-linear-foot opening will result in immediate physical changes in the movement and exchange of water north and south of the CCC. Following those physical changes, there will be water quality changes resulting in higher, more stable salinity values north of the CCC and reductions in nutrients and chlorophyll-a associated with those salinity changes and increased circulation. The seagrass mitigation area will offset future impacts from other project(s) within the Tampa Bay area. The proposed service area for seagrass mitigation consists of the Tampa Bay and Coastal Areas watershed, with out-of-basin exceptions allowed only in project-specific instances where there is a demonstrated close hydrological and/or ecological connection to this project.
The applicant has provided the following information in support of the proposed mitigation project:
The patterns of seagrass species distribution and salinity north of the CCC are consistent with the assumptions of their conceptual model:
The construction of the CCC reduced the tidal influence in areas north of the causeway.
Reduced tidal influences would be most strongly manifested in areas farthest away from the open waters of OTB (i.e. west to east north of the CCC).
In those areas north of the CCC and farthest away (i.e. east) from tidal influences, the influences of freshwater inflows would be artificially enhanced due to reduced mixing with higher salinity waters of the open bay.
Reduced tidal mixing north of the CCC results in lower and more variable salinities than in areas south of the CCC or in areas north of the CCC but farther to the west.
The resulting alterations to the salinity regime would likely result in the loss of more stenohaline (intolerant of a wide fluctuation in salinity) species of seagrass, i.e. manatee grass.
Alterations to the natural salinity regime would be more strongly manifested in areas farthest removed from tidal influences, i.e. the eastern stratum north of the CCC, resulting in a salinity-mediated filtering that would result in dominance by widgeon grass in areas north of the CCC and farthest away from historical tidal influences (i.e., strata B and C).
The conclusion was that salinity best explains the patterns of seagrass species and lower abundance north of the CCC and the prevalence of impersistent species. Further analysis of other parameters such as nitrogen and chlorophyll-a, found that concentrations were higher north of the CCC; however, the elevated concentration were associated with the altered salinity regime and long residence time rather than pollution. Analysis of the sediments, also, was not supportive of a conclusion that they were grossly polluted, e.g. high H2S, or indicative of nutrient enriched runoff into the area. The sediments were mostly sand with relatively low organic content and sulfide levels that are not considered toxic to seagrasses. Therefore, the current state of the seagrass resources north of the CCC can be most likely attributed to the lack of tidal flushing causing the differences in seagrass species and abundance. Improving tidal flushing through the addition of the approximate 229-linear-foot bridge would improve the conditions for restoration of the seagrass species and abundance north of the CCC. Strata A and B would experience a 80% and 60% reduction in residence time, respectively, while stratum C would experience a 50% reduction with a resulting residence time significantly less than the residence time currently within stratum A. Stratum A totals consists of approximately 89 acres; Stratum B consists of approximately 123 acres; and Stratum C consists of approximately 108 acres. The positive effects of the enhanced flushing caused by the bridge would include improvement of water quality in approximately 320 acres and the restoration of conditions favorable to the growth and expansion of the approximate 124 acres of sparse seagrass in strata B and C.
The applicant has evaluated the project using the Uniform Mitigation Assessment Method (UMAM) determine Functional gain for water quality improvements and seagrass enhancement strata on the north side of the CCC. Three areas are proposed to have only water quality improvements (Stratum A, Stratum B (west), Stratum C (west) resulting in a total function gain of 16.848. Stratum B (east) and Stratum C (east) were determined to have a total functional gain of 3.180 with gains both in the water environment and community structure.
The proposed mitigation plan is included with this public notice.
AVOIDANCE AND MINIMIZATION INFORMATION – The applicant has provided the following information in support of efforts to avoid and/or minimize impacts to the aquatic environment: The project is designed to remove a portion of the CCC within the current footprint and alignment. There will be no impacts to existing seagrass or wetlands as a result of the construction activities and a minimum of a 25 foot construction buffer will be maintained. The sole vegetative community within the permanent and temporary construction zone is drift algae. Impacts during construction will be minimized through a turbidity control and monitoring plan. The modification to the CCC with a structure is designed to increase water circulation in the far eastern side of Causeway, as an alternative to traditional stormwater management facilities. The modification to the Causeway would ameliorate water quality impacts associated with this artificial impediment to water circulation in the northeastern area of Old Tampa Bay. A relief bridge would allow for a more natural movement of water between areas north and south of the Causeway. The project has been designed to minimize impacts to the aquatic environment and is anticipated to result in improvements to the Old Tampa Bay.
COMPENSATORY MITIGATION – The applicant has provided the following explanation why compensatory mitigation should not be required: The project proposes to remove a an approximate 229-linear-foot segment of the causeway and construct an approximate 229-linear-foot bridge in its place in order to allow for the exchange of water flow, thus providing an environmental lift. The project would result in improvements to the aquatic environment and establish an area that would be used as mitigation for FDOT projects that propose to impact seagrasses. Given the above factors, the applicant has determined that the project does not constitute the need for mitigation for impacts associated with traversing the channel with the bridge.
CULTURAL RESOURCES: The Corps is not aware of any known historic properties within the permit area. By copy of this public notice, the Corps is providing information for review. Our final determination relative to historic resource impacts is subject to review by and coordination with the State Historic Preservation Officer and those federally recognized tribes with concerns in Florida and the Permit Area.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The Corps has determined the proposed project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris); and swimming sea turtles, to include the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii); and smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata). The Corps will request U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries Service concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Additionally, the project is within the consultation area of the piping plover (Charadrius melodus) and within wood stork (Mycteria americana) nesting colony buffers. The Corps has determined the proposal would have no effect on these species.
West Indian Manatee: The waters adjacent to the area are most likely frequented by the Florida manatee, because the area consists of the combination of freshwater sources and seagrasses within the general vicinity. Therefore, the applicant proposes to adhere to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Standard Manatee Conditions for In-Water Work. The Corps reviewed the Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, and the State of Florida Effect Determination Key for the Manatee in Florida, April 2013. The key resulted in the following sequential determination: A > B > C > D > E > F > G > N > O > P > may affect, not likely to adversely affect the West Indian manatee.
Swimming Sea Turtles: The site is accessible to swimming sea turtles, as the project is proposed within waters of the Old Tampa Bay. Therefore, the waters adjacent to the causeway site may be utilized by swimming sea turtles for refuge and foraging. Therefore, the applicant proposes to adhere to the NMFS’s Sea Turtle and Smalltooth Sawfish Construction Conditions. Given this information, the Corps has determined that the project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect swimming sea turtles.
Smalltooth Sawfish: The smalltooth sawfish inhabits shallow, euryhaline waters and shorelines containing red mangroves. The project proposes to impact mangroves; however, the mangroves that will be affected appear to be above the waterline (growing in the riprap) the vast majority of the time. Although it is unlikely that the smalltooth sawfish would utilize the area on a regular and reoccurring basis, there is a potential that this species may enter into the area occasionally. Therefore, the applicant proposes to adhere to the NMFS’s Sea Turtle and Smalltooth Sawfish Construction Conditions. Given the above information, the Corps has determined that the project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the smalltooth sawfish.
Wood Stork: The habitat for this species includes freshwater and estuarine marshes, swamps, lagoons, ponds, flooded fields; and depressions in marshes. Wood storks typically nest colonially in medium to tall trees which occur in stands located in swamps or on islands surrounded by relatively broad expanses of water. The proposed project is located within three wood stork colony buffers, with the nearest colony being approximately 6.60 miles from the proposed project site. The site currently consists of roadway, scattered mangroves present within the riprap adjacent to the roadway along the shoreline, and open tidal waters. There is no wood stork habitat within the proposed project area, as all work is within tidally influenced waters. Additionally, based upon review of the Wood Stork Key for Central and North Peninsular Florida dated September 2008, the proposed project resulted in the following sequential determination: A = no effect on the wood stork.
Piping Plover: This species typically nests and feeds along coastal beaches (barrier beaches) in areas such as wash-over fans, naturally-functioning inlets, and bayside flats. Generally, this species forage for food around the high tide wrack zone and along the water’s edge, consuming insects, marine worms, and small crustaceans. The proposed project site does not contain habitat for this species. In consideration of this information, the Corps has determined that the project would have no effect on the piping plover.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT (EFH): This notice initiates consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service on EFH as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 1996. Our initial determination is that the proposed action would not have a substantial adverse impact on EFH or Federally managed fisheries in the waters of the Tampa Bay watershed, as the mangroves are located within the riprap and do not provide suitable habitat for the smalltooth sawfish, and there are is no essential fish habitat that was identified that would be impacted. Also, the nature of the project is to restore seagrasses, whereby habitat for species would be established. Our final determination relative to project impacts and the need for mitigation measures is subject to review by and coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
NOTE: This public notice is being issued based on information furnished by the applicant. This information has not been verified or evaluated to ensure compliance with laws and regulation governing the regulatory program. The jurisdictional line has not been verified by Corps personnel.
AUTHORIZATION FROM OTHER AGENCIES: Water Quality Certification may be required from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and/or one of the state Water Management Districts.
COMMENTS regarding the potential authorization of the work proposed should be submitted in writing to the attention of the District Engineer at the Palm Beach Gardens Office, 4400 PGA Boulevard, Suite 500, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33410-6557 within 30 days from the date of this notice.
The decision whether to issue or deny this permit application will be based on the information received from this public notice and the evaluation of the probable impact to the associated wetlands. This is based on an analysis of the applicant's avoidance and minimization efforts for the project, as well as the compensatory mitigation proposed.
QUESTIONS concerning this application should be directed to the project manager, Mrs. Tarrie Ostrofsky, in writing at the Palm Beach Gardens Office, 4400 PGA Boulevard, Suite 500, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33410-6557, by electronic mail at Tarrie.L.Ostrofsky@usace.army.mil, by fax at (561) 626-6971, or by telephone at (561) 472-3519.
IMPACT ON NATURAL RESOURCES: Coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Marine Fisheries Services, and other Federal, State, and local agencies, environmental groups, and concerned citizens generally yields pertinent environmental information that is instrumental in determining the impact the proposed action will have on the natural resources of the area.
EVALUATION: The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impact including cumulative impacts of the proposed activity on the public interest. That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. The benefits, which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the proposal, must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. All factors which may be relevant to the proposal will be considered including cumulative impacts thereof; among these are conservation, economics, esthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historical 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, considerations of property ownership, and in general, the needs and welfare of the people. Evaluation of the impact of the activity on the public interest will also include application of the guidelines promulgated by the Administrator, EPA, under authority of Section 404(b) of the Clean Water Act or the criteria established under authority of Section 102(a) of the Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972. A permit will be granted unless its issuance is found to be contrary to the public interest.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (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 determination, comments are used to assess impacts to endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and the other public interest factors listed above. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity.
COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT CONSISTENCY: In Florida, the State approval constitutes compliance with the approved Coastal Zone Management Plan. In Puerto Rico, a Coastal Zone Management Consistency Concurrence is required from the Puerto Rico Planning Board. In the Virgin Islands, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources permit constitutes compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Plan.
REQUEST FOR PUBLIC HEARING: Any person may request a public hearing. The request must be submitted in writing to the District Engineer within the designated comment period of the notice and must state the specific reasons for requesting the public hearing.