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, District 7
Attn: Ms. Virginia Creighton
11201 N. McKinley Dr.
Tampa, Florida 33612
WATERWAY AND LOCATION: The project would affect waters of the United States associated with Old Tampa Bay. The project is located within Sections 24-27 and 31-33, Township 29 South, Range 17 East; Section 6, Township 30 South, Range 17 East; and Section 19, Township 29 South, Range 18 East, in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County, Florida.
Directions to the site are as follows: The project area is the Howard Frankland Bridge (HFB) portion of I-275 and extends from just south of the 4th Street ramp over I-275 in Pinellas County to 0.5 miles north of the Howard Frankland Bridge abutment in Hillsborough County, Florida.
APPROXIMATE CENTRAL COORDINATES: Latitude 27.923162°
Basic: Linear transportation improvements.
Overall: The overall project purpose is construction of a new bridge to replace an existing bridge along I-275 over the Old Tampa Bay and widening of portions of I-275, referred to as the HFB Causeways to improve a critical local and regional transportation network and increase the capacity for public emergency evacuation in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.
EXISTING CONDITIONS: There are two bridges associated with the I-275 HFB, the I-275 south bound bridge built in 1990, referred to as the “1990 Bridge”, and the I-275 north bound bridge built in 1960, referred to as the “1960 Bridge”. The 1960 Bridge has outlived its 50-year design life and deteriorated from age and exposure to the salt water environment. The HFB is a critical link in the local and regional transportation network and is one of only three crossings over Old Tampa Bay between Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. The HFB has the distinction of being the bridge over Old Tampa Bay that carries the most traffic. The HFB is also a critical evacuation route for Pinellas County and is shown on the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s evacuation route network. The proposed project limits have been classified in accordance with the Florida Land Use, Cover and Forms Classification System (FLUCFCS). Transitioning south to north from the mainland and onto the HFB Causeway portion in Pinellas County, the FLUCFCS 810 transportation corridor is flanked by the open water environment of Old Tampa Bay (FLUCFCS 540, Bays and Estuaries) and areas of seagrass (FLUCFCS 911) in the shallow waters immediately adjacent to the HFB Causeway. Once on the bridges and in the deeper portions of Old Tampa Bay, the transportation corridor crosses over FLUCFCS 540 until touching down again on the HFB Causeway in Hillsborough County. Similar to the Pinellas County side of Old Tampa Bay, the HFB Causeway in Hillsborough County is also flanked on both sides by open water and seagrass communities. The I-275 project area extending south of the bridge abutment in Pinellas County is predominantly an active transportation corridor that includes infrastructure, stormwater conveyance swales and landscape vegetation. The predominant vegetation within actively-maintained portions of the ROW include grasses and other low-cut herbs. Landscaping in the form of grasses, shrubs and trees is present within the medians, right-of-way margins and interchanges.
PROPOSED WORK: The applicant seeks authorization to discharge fill material over waters of the United States including 7.88 acres of seagrasses/submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and 16.59 acres of surface water (unvegetated bay bottom) associated with the construction of a new bridge, referred to as the “2020 Bridge” to replace the 1960 Bridge and to widen portions of I-275, referred to as the HFB Causeways. In addition, the project would incur approximately 1.28 acres of secondary SAV impacts and 0.30 acres of temporary impacts to surface waters (unvegetated bay bottom).
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:
Impact avoidance and minimization with respect to seagrass communities and the waters of Tampa Bay have been a prime focus during the planning efforts of this bridge replacement project. One of the primary reasons the location of the new bridge is proposed on the west side of the 1990 Bridge is the presence of more dense and vibrant seagrass communities on the east side of the 1960 Bridge. Additional design revisions were made to the HFB Causeways as well as to the southern (Pinellas) and northern (Hillsborough) abutments to minimize those impacts that proved to be unavoidable.
Based on preliminary design, it has been determined that there are no practical alternatives to the proposed construction in areas inhabited by seagrasses and surface waters and that avoidance of these resources has been maximized to the greatest extent possible. The use of silt screens, floating turbidity barriers, and other discharge prevention measures during construction will minimize impacts to the waters of Tampa Bay within the vicinity of the project.
It is anticipated that the FDOT will require the future contractor to identify seagrass resources adjacent to the project’s limits-of-construction with direction to install and maintain floating buoys to insure that construction activities will not cause unacceptable, adverse secondary impacts. Cumulative impacts resulting from this project are not anticipated.
Specific impact avoidance / minimization design elements have been incorporated into the conceptual design presented in this application. These include the following:
During the development of the proposed alignment, seagrass surveys were completed and the results indicated that the seagrass establishment was more prevalent along the east side of the existing causeways; therefore, the new alignment and new bridge were placed along the west side to avoid the more established seagrass beds. By doing this, the project will result in impacts to seagrasses that exhibit less coverage and density in addition to less species diversity and lower overall habitat values.
Bridge embankment is typically placed using slopes. In order to minimize the footprint of the new seawalls along the construction areas of the HFB Causeways, Mechanically Stabilized Earthwork (MSE) walls are being specified to eliminate the slope and reduce the impact footprint width as much as 60 feet.
Similar with the construction along the widening portions of the HFB Causeways, MSE walls will be used at both expanded bridge abutments to reduce the proposed impact footprint as much as 40 feet in width.
In order to minimize the overall proposed causeway construction footprint along the widened portions of the HFB Causeways, the existing causeway profile elevations were maintained to the greatest extent possible.
The separation of the new 2020 Bridge from the existing 1990 Bridge that will be retrofitted for northbound traffic is typically 100 feet. In order to reduce the proposed construction footprint of the HFB Causeways, the typical 100 feet separation of the existing and proposed bridge was reduced to 30 feet at the intersections with the causeways to minimize the width of the new causeway construction. To accomplish this, compound alignment curves were used to transition from the original 100-foot bridge separation to the 30-foot separation at the proposed causeway tie in locations; therefore minimizing the proposed causeway tie-in widths.
To minimize the overall proposed construction footprint, the proposed new seawalls along the HFB Causeways have been designed to meet the scour critical depth. This has allowed the FDOT to eliminate over 5000 feet of the required seawall riprap protection along the length of the causeways. The only riprap protection that will be required will be in the immediate area of the abutments, thus matching the existing conditions and subsequently reducing the new causeway construction footprint.
The FDOT avoided additional impacts to Old Tampa Bay by not lengthening the abutments in order to propose a shorter, and less expensive, 2020 Bridge.
The FDOT will establish designated barge restriction zones to avoid and minimize barge grounding to ensure that additional, unauthorized seagrass impacts do not occur during construction.
To avoid unauthorized seagrass impacts, land-to-water access points (temporary trestles) have been placed in deeper water locations at the end of each abutment area, thus avoiding seagrass communities and minimizing the potential for unpermitted seagrass impacts.
The proposed expansion of the HFB Causeway on the Pinellas County side of Old Tampa Bay incorporates an updated typical section that includes the use of buffer separation between the general use and express lanes in lieu of barrier separation. The use of buffer separation enables FDOT to propose a 48-foot reduction in the proposed causeway construction width.
COMPENSATORY MITIGATION – The applicant has offered the following compensatory mitigation plan to offset unavoidable functional loss to the aquatic environment:
The functional values of the on-site aquatic resources were established using the Uniform Mitigation Assessment Method (UMAM). These assessments conclude that the project would incur a total of 4.06 UMAM Functional Loss units for seagrass impacts. Mitigation for jurisdictional Corps functional losses would be fulfilled through functional gain units obtained through FDOT’s Old Tampa Bay Water Quality Improvement Project, also referred to as OTB/WQIP. Therefore, mitigation would be performed in accordance with the OTB/WQIP as authorized by USACE Permit No. SAJ-2016-02935 (SP-TLO).
CULTURAL RESOURCES – The applicant has provided the following information regarding historic resource impacts:
Archaeological Consultants, Inc. (ACI) conducted a cultural resource assessment survey (CRAS) for the project. The purpose of the CRAS was to locate and identify any cultural resources within the Area of Potential Effect (APE) and to assess their significance in terms of eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The CRAS was conducted in accordance with the requirements set forth in the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, and Chapter 267, Florida Statutes (F.S.).
The investigations were carried out in conformity with Part 2, Chapter 12 (“Archaeological and Historical Resources”) of the FDOT’s Project Development and Environment Manual and the standards contained in the Florida Division of Historical Resources’ (FDHR) Cultural Resource Management Standards and Operations Manual (FDHR 2003; FDOT 1999). In addition, the survey met the specifications set forth in Chapter 1A‐46, Florida Administrative Code.
Based on the background research there were no previously recorded historic resources, and the presence of unrecorded historic resources was considered unlikely within the project’s APE. The historic resources field survey resulted in the identification of the 1960 Bridge as a historic resource, however, it was determined that the bridge is not distinguished by its significant historical associations nor by its engineering or architectural design. In addition, the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) has indicated that the rehabilitation of the bridge in 1996 has made it ineligible for listing in the NRHP. The CRAS concludes with the determination that the bridge replacement project will have no involvement with any archaeological sites or historic resources which are listed, determined eligible, or considered potentially eligible for listing in the NRHP. FDOT has received SHPO concurrence that the proposed project will have no effect on any cultural resources (SHPO/DHR Project File Number 2012-4134).
ENDANGERED SPECIES: Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi), Smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinate), Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate), Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus), Piping plover (Charadrius melodus), Wood stork (Mycteria Americana), and Eastern Indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couper).
The applicant conducted a Project Development and Environment (PD&E) study to assess for impacts to federally-listed species. Additionally, review for the de-listed federally protected, bald eagle was also conducted. The FDOT has conducted and is continuing Endangered Species Act (ESA), Section 7 consultation with both U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). However, the FDOT has since extended the project limits and is conducting further consultation with USFWS and NMFS.
The Gulf sturgeon is known to forage in the Gulf of Mexico. Non-breeding populations have been found in Tampa Bay. Critical habitat for the Gulf sturgeon is not designated within or adjacent to the project corridor. Impacts to spawning habitat would be unlikely during project construction. Impacts to potential foraging grounds for non-breeding individuals would be minimal and could consist of bridge abutment work and construction of sea wall areas along the HFB Causeways. In project areas where the Gulf sturgeon might occur, the FDOT has committed to incorporating the NMFS and USFWS special construction provisions into construction contract documents in order to avoid impacts to the Gulf sturgeon. Given the unlikelihood of the species within the project area and the FDOT’s commitment to adhere to the construction provisions, it is anticipated that the project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the Gulf sturgeon. The Corps will request USFWS concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the ESA.
The smalltooth sawfish is found in a variety of shallow coastal and brackish waters including seagrass beds, oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, inshore bars and walled canals. The project is not in designated critical habitat for the smalltooth sawfish. However, FDOT is committed to implement the NMFS Sea Turtle and Smalltooth Sawfish Construction Conditions during construction. Given the unlikelihood of the species within the project area and the FDOT’s commitment to adhere to the construction provisions, it is anticipated that the project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the small-toothed sawfish. The Corps will request NMFS concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the ESA.
Sea turtles have been observed in and around portions of Tampa Bay, as well as using beaches, canals and estuaries. Juvenile sea turtles are known to frequent bay inlet waters. The narrow beach zones present along the HFB Causeways are tidally-dynamic and do not provide suitable refuge for nesting sea turtles. However, sea turtles, in particular juvenile sea turtles, may be present in the waters within and abutting the project corridor. The FDOT is committed to implement the protocol outlined in the Sea Turtle and Smalltooth Sawfish Construction Conditions during construction. Given the FDOT’s commitment to adhere to the construction provisions, it is anticipated that the project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect sea turtles. The Corps will request NMFS concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the ESA.
The West Indian manatee utilizes coastal waters, bays, and estuaries. The project corridor is located in the USFWS Consultation Area for the West Indian manatee, although no federal sanctuaries, refuges, or critical manatee habitats exist within or adjacent to the project corridor. The area surrounding the HFB Causeways along the project corridor is considered a marine mammal region and data show manatee utilization of this area. No individuals were observed during in-water or field surveys during the PD&E Study, but their periodic presence is expected. Seagrasses are present and project impacts to seagrass habitat will occur. The Standard Manatee Conditions for In-Water Work will be implemented during construction to eliminate the possibility of construction-related manatee injury or death. Since construction provisions will be implemented and impacts to seagrass habitat minimized and mitigated, it is anticipated that the project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the West Indian manatee. The Corps will request USFWS concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the ESA.
The piping plover utilizes open sandy beaches, graveled shorelines and tidal mud flats. The project is also within the USFWS Consultation Area for the piping plover. However, no USFWS Critical Habitat is designated within the project limits. Minimal project impacts may occur to a narrow, tidally-dynamic beach zone present near the HFB Causeways. However, due to the proximity of this unprotected area to the highway, utilization of the area by nesting piping plovers is unlikely. Temporary or permanent impacts may occur to beach and/or tidal areas within the project limits; however, it is unlikely that habitat used by the piping plover for nesting, foraging or shelter will be impacted. Given the unlikely presence of the species within the project limits, it is anticipated that the project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the piping plover. The Corps will request USFWS concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the ESA.
The wood stork typically utilizes freshwater and estuarine habitats for nesting, foraging, and roosting. The USFWS recognizes a 15-mile Core Foraging Area (CFA) radius around wood stork rookeries in central Florida. The project corridor falls within the CFA of five wood stork rookeries. The USFWS references the Habitat Management Guidelines for the Wood Stork in the Southeast Region and the Draft Supplemental Habitat Management Guidelines for the Wood Stork in South Florida to assess wood stork impacts. The USFWS recognizes the need to protect suitable foraging habitat (SFH), which is defined as calm, relatively open waters, uncluttered by dense vegetation with a seasonal high water level between 2 and 15 inches. SFH exists within the project corridor including tidal marshes, herbaceous ditches and stormwater management areas; however, nesting colonies were not documented and no wood storks have been observed foraging in the project area. Construction of the project will impact wetlands and surface waters, but impacts to SFH have been minimized as part of the project design and provisions for wetland mitigation have been proposed. In compliance with USFWS Standard Local Operating Procedures for Endangered Species (SLOPES) for the wood stork, no net loss of wetlands or foraging habitat will occur as a result of this project. Given that the project will result in insignificant impacts to SFH and that mitigation will be provided for impacts to wetland and surface water habitats, it has been determined that the project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the wood stork. The Corps will request USFWS concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the ESA.
Although suitable habitat for the Eastern indigo snake may be very limited within the project boundary, the FDOT Contractor will be required to follow the USFWS approved Standard Protection Measures for the Eastern Indigo Snake (2013). Given the unlikely presence of the species in the area and the FDOT’s commitment to adhere to the construction provisions, the Corps has determined the proposed project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the Eastern indigo snake. The Corps will request USFWS concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the ESA.
Although the bald eagle is no longer afforded protection by the ESA, protection for the species is provided through the Migratory Birds Program per the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA). Bald eagles most commonly inhabit areas near the coast, bays, rivers, lakes or other open bodies of water. They nest in tall trees, typically live pines, which usually have open views to their surroundings. Eagles are also known to utilize artificial structures and other types of tall trees for nesting. The USFWS determined that construction activities greater than 660 feet away from bald eagle nests have no documented negative effects that would halt construction activities during the nesting season. There are no documented nests within 660 feet of the project study limits. The FDOT has committed to following USFWS Monitoring Guidelines if any nests are observed within the project’s limits of construction. It is anticipated that the project will have no effect for the bald eagle and no involvement for USFWS Critical Habitat for the bald eagle.
The Corps has determined the proposal would have no effect on any other listed threatened or endangered species or designated critical habitat.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT (EFH): Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) is defined by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) of 1976, as amended in 1996. The MSFCMA was enacted by the U.S. Congress to protect marine fish stocks and their habitat, to prevent and stop overfishing, and to minimize by-catch. Congress defined EFH as “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity” (16 U.S.C. 1802 (10)).
The project crosses two EFH types utilized by federally-managed species and their prey including two estuarine subtidal habitats, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and unvegetated bay bottom. Fisheries identified as having potential to utilize Tampa Bay include red drum (Scianenops ocellatus), coastal migratory pelagics and reef fish, pink shrimp (Farfantepenaeus duorarum), stone crab (Minippe mercenaria), and spiny lobster (Panulirus argus). The project would incur approximately 7.88 acres of direct impacts and 1.28 acres of secondary impacts to seagrass EFH. Our initial determination is that the proposed action would not have a substantial adverse impact on EFH or federally-managed fisheries. The applicant plans to implement seagrass mitigation through FDOT’s OTB/WQIP. Our final determination relative to project impacts and the need for mitigation measures is subject to review by and coordination with the NMFS.
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 was verified on May 4, 2018 by Corps personnel during a joint Port, State and Federal site visit.
AUTHORIZATION FROM OTHER AGENCIES: The project is under Southwest Florida Water Management District’s jurisdiction for Water Quality Certification and wetland impacts. The bridge structure construction is under the regulatory jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard under Section 9 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.
COMMENTS regarding the potential authorization of the work proposed should be submitted in writing to the attention of the District Engineer through the Panama City Permits Section, Post Office Box 4970, Jacksonville, Florida 32232 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, Mr. Randy Turner, in writing at the Jacksonville Permits Section, Post Office Box 4970, Jacksonville, Florida 32232, by electronic mail at Randy.L.Turner@usace.army.mil, by fax at (904) 232-1904, or by telephone at (904) 232-1670.
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.