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) as described below:
APPLICANTS: Sun Gro Horticulture Excavation
& Processing, LLC St. Johns River Water Management District
Attn: Robert Naleway, P.E.
Attn: Eric Lundy 4049 Reid Street
6021 Beggs Road Palatka, FL 32178
Orlando, FL 32810-2600
WATERWAY AND LOCATION: The project would affect waters of the United States associated with a 1,319 acre portion of the Emeralda Marsh Conservation Area (EMCA) known as Area 5. The project site is located within the Ocklawaha River Basin, in Sections 13, 14, 23, and 24, Township 18, Range 25, Lake County, Florida.
Directions to the site are as follows: Take I-75 South to Southwest County Highway 484 in Marion County. Take exit 341 for Marion County from I-75 South towards Belleview/Dunnellon. Turn left onto Southwest County Highway 484, continue onto SE 132nd Street Road. Turn right onto US-27/US-441 South and continue south for 4 miles. Turn left onto SE 165th St/SE Highway 42 and continue on Southeast Highway 42 for approximately 21.7 miles. Turn right onto Southeast Highway 452 and continue south for 4 miles. Turn right onto Felkins Road and continue for 0.8 miles. Turn right onto Goose Prairie Road and continue for 1.3 miles. Goose Prairie Road turns into Emeralda Island Road. Continue approximately 1.4 miles to an access road to the East and proceed into the project area.
APPROXIMATE CENTRAL COORDINATES: Latitude: 28.9094°
Basic: Mine peat.
Overall: Mine nutrient enriched peat to improve water quality of downstream waterbodies and to restore connectivity of the existing marsh to Lake Griffin.
EXISTING CONDITIONS: The project area (Area 5) is part of the larger Emeralda Marsh system that connects Lake Yale and Lake Griffin within the Ocklawaha River Basin. Encompassing 1,319 acre, the project area consists of 181.6 acres of unimproved uplands, 124.5 acres of forested uplands, 519.9 acres freshwater marsh, and 493 acres of shallow open water (depths 2’ to 4’). Within the 1,319 acre project area is the proposed 605 acre peat excavation area. The excavation area was formally used for agricultural but has transitioned into a shallow, open water system with a littoral shelf. Vegetation in the littoral shelf (approximately 112 acres) is dominated by nuisance/exotic species including Peruvian primrose willow (Ludwigia peruviana), cattail (Typha sp.), and Carolina willow (Salix caroliniana), Cuban bulrush (Oxycaryum cubense), and common reed (Phragmities autralis). Other non-natives include wild taro (Colocasia esculenta), torpedograss (Panicum repens), and alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides).
The shallow, open water portions of the excavation area (approximately 493 acres) are dominated by hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata), a submerged invasive plant species, and floating species that include water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), and water spangles (Salvinia minima). Floating vegetation mats are widespread throughout the open water areas. The shallow open waters have been partially bisected by linear elevated areas (formerly roads and berms) that were created during muck farming activities. These areas have been colonized by vegetation similar to that in the littoral shelf. Outside of the excavation area is a 33 acres FDOT mitigation area, and 263 acres of previously restored freshwater marsh that border the excavation area.
PROPOSED WORK: The applicant seeks authorization to mine nutrient laden soil (peat) from the 605 acres excavation area. The mine plan divides the area into cells that will be de-watered and excavated individually. The excavation area and interior cells will be divided by a series of berms and/or levees. These earthen structures will be built using onsite material, from within the excavation area. A 13.6 acre treatment pond, a 13.7 acre polishing pond, and a 36.2 acre emergency storage pond will be constructed to retain stormwater prior to discharge into the wetlands adjacent to Lake Griffin. A 23.7 acre storage and staging area will also be constructed. Impacts to existing freshwater marsh total 175.5 acres. Impacts to shallow open water areas total 493 acres.
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:
For this project, an Alternatives Analysis is not be necessary since the project involves the restoration of State lands. The dredge and fill material from the excavation will remain on-site to construct internal berms and/or levees. Upon completion of excavation, the dredge and fill material will be used to restore the side slopes of the lake at 4:1.
COMPENSATORY MITIGATION – The applicant has provided the following explanation why compensatory mitigation should not be required:
The restoration plan will include grading 37.4 acres of littoral shelf to a 4:1 slope and planting the area with native wetland plants. Water storage/treatment areas on site, totaling 63.5 acres, will be bermed during excavation then scraped down to grade and also planted with native wetland plants. The project will restore a total of 100.9 acres of freshwater marsh to accompany the 263 acres of marsh previously restored by SJRWMD.
The Corps is aware of historic property/properties within or in close proximity of the permit area. The Corps will initiate consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office and those federally recognized tribes with concerns in Florida and the Permit Area, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation as applicable pursuant to 33 CFR 325, Appendix C and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, by separate letter.
The Corps has determined the proposed project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the endangered wood stork (Mycteria americana), the threatened Florida scrub jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens), the endangered everglade snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus), and two threatened species of skink, or their designated critical habitats (where applicable). The Corps will request U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. The Corps has determined the proposal would have no effect on any other listed threatened or endangered species or adversely modify any designated critical habitat.
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 Atlantic Ocean. 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/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 through the West Permits Branch Mining Team, 10117 Princess Palm Avenue, Ste. 120, Tampa, Florida 33610 within 21 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, Mark E. Peterson, in writing at the West Permits Branch Mining Team, 10117 Princess Palm Avenue, Ste. 120, Tampa, Florida 33610; by electronic mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by facsimile transmission at (813)769-7061; or, by telephone at (813)769-7065.
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.