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SAJ-1992-01224 (SP-JMB)

Published Aug. 26, 2020
Expiration date: 9/15/2020

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 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (33 U.S.C. §403) and Section 404 of the Clean Waters Act (33 U.S.C. §1344) as described below:

APPLICANT:  Sebastian Inlet Tax District
                       Attn: James Gray
                       114 Sixth Avenue
                       Indiatlantic, Florida 32903

WATERWAY AND LOCATION: The Sebastian Inlet Sand Bypassing and Channel Maintenance Project is located along the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean from Sebastian Inlet from Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) monuments R-3 to R-17, in Sections 20 and 29, Township 30 South, Range 39 East, Sebastian Inlet, Indian River County, Florida.

Directions to the site are as follows: The project extends from just south of the intersection of State Road A1A and Sebastian Inlet south approximately 2 miles.

Latitude 27.8529 °
Longitude -80.4550°

Basic: Sand bypassing and maintenance dredge

Overall: To mitigate the historical adverse effects of Sebastian Inlet on the downdrift oceanfront properties and to provide storm protection to the barrier island shoreline of the Sebastian Inlet State Park between FDEP monuments R-3 to R-17.

EXISTING CONDITIONS: The sand trap (borrow area) and navigation channel substrate is sand. The depth of the sand trap, when full, is approximately 10 feet NAVD88. The design dredge depths of the sand trap vary up to -17 feet NAVD88 and an allowable 1-foot over-dredge. The inlet channel maintenance dredging depth is 10.5 feet NAVD88. The submerged substrate is sand and ephemeral hardbottom.

The Sebastian Inlet Tax District (District) conducts annual seagrass surveys and permit-required seagrass monitoring surveys as required by the current FDEP and previous USACE permits. The permit sketches show the 2019 seagrass mapping.

The District conducts permit-required nearshore hardbottom monitoring surveys as required by the current FDEP and previous USACE permits. Attached are the 2019 Immediate Post- Construction Report providing the nearshore hardbottom survey

PROJECT HISTORY: The proposed Action was previously permitted under USACE authorization SAJ-1992-01224, and is unchanged from the previously authorized action. No structures are proposed.

PROPOSED WORK: The applicant seeks authorization for dredging the sand trap and channel, with beach placement of sand downdrift (south) of Sebastian Inlet within the template from Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) reference monument R-3 to R-17, Indian River County. The dredged sand will be placed either directly on the beach or within the District’s dredged material management area (DMMA) for subsequent beach placement. The proposed beach template has the same extents as the previously permitted project, but also incorporates a turtle-friendly berm. The proposed activity will allow the District to meet the bypassing objective recommended by its Inlet Management Plan (IMP) and maintain a navigation channel between the ICW and inlet. The applicant has requested a 10-year permit authorization.

It is anticipated that there will be multiple dredging and beach placement events during the duration of the permit. The District has an annualized bypassing goal of 70,000 cubic yards per year. The sand trap is designed for 6-year dredging interval; however, dredging can occur more frequently based on storm impacts and channel shoaling. Sand placement is primarily based on the conditions of the beach, which often require beach placement events more frequently than the 6-year interval.

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 Activity avoids impacts that would result in mitigation and minimizes impacts to listed species. The Activity and Action Area are unchanged from the USACE authorization that expired May 4, 2020 (USACE Permit No. SAJ-1992-01224). By keeping the Action Area unchanged, there are no additional impacts to which were authorized under USACE Permit No. SAJ-1992-01224.

The applicant is in acceptance of the standard manatee, smalltooth sawfish, and sea turtle guidelines; as well as the terms and conditions (T&Cs) and reasonable and prudent measures (RPMs) listed under the Jacksonville District Programmatic Biological Opinion and Piping Plover Programmatic Biological Opinion (P3BO). By accepting and incorporating the T&Cs and RPMs of the programmatic biological opinions, the applicant is minimizing impacts to acceptable regulatory standards.”

COMPENSATORY MITIGATION: The applicant has offered the following compensatory mitigation plan to offset unavoidable functional loss to the aquatic environment:

“No mitigation is proposed.”

CULTURAL RESOURCES: The permit area has been extensively modified by previous permitted work; and 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.

U.S FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICES (USFWS): The Corps executed a Resources At Risk (RAR) report for the area within a 3 mile radius of the approximate project center. The RAR indicated that the proposed project “may affect” the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacaea), green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), and the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) based on the proposed impacts to nesting beaches. The project “may affect but is not likely to adversely affect” the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris), as well as the piping plover (Charadrius melodus), least tern (Sterna antillarum), rufa red knot (Calidris canatus rufa), and the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi). It is the Corps’ determination that the Proposed Action will have “no effect” on the Atlantic salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii taeniata), Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens), southeastern beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus niveiventris), Johnson’s seagrass (Halophila johnsonii), and the wood stork (Mycteria americana),. The Corps will request concurrence from the USFWS with these determinations pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.

SEA TURTLES: The USFWS’ revised Statewide Programmatic Biological Opinion (SBPO) for Shore Protection Activities along the Coast of Florida, dated February 27, 2015, discusses in detail general information for sea turtles including status and distribution, behavior, life history, population dynamics, etc. (USFWS 2015a). Common threats to sea turtles in Florida are also discussed in the SPBO. Terrestrial critical habitat has been designated by the USFWS for the loggerhead, green, leatherback, and hawksbill sea turtle; however, critical habitat overlaps with the Project Action Area for only the Northwest Atlantic Ocean distinct population segment (NWAO DPS) of the loggerhead sea turtle. The final rule, published on July 10, 2014 by the USFWS, included 45 units encompassing approximately 637 km (396 mi) of mapped shoreline along the coast of Florida (50 CFR 17). The sand placement template portion of the Action Area is located entirely within the LOGG-T-FL-08 unit: Sebastian Inlet – Indian River Shores, Indian River County, which encompasses 4.1 km (2.5 mi) of beach and includes the Sebastian Inlet State Park and Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

Sea turtles regularly nest on the beaches south of Sebastian Inlet in Indian River County, where the nesting season extends from March 1 through October 31. The Action Area provides important nesting habitat for sea turtles and the proposed Action has the potential to adversely affect nesting females, nests, and hatchlings within the Action Area. Therefore, the Corps has made the determination that this project “May affect” nesting sea turtles as listed above, per the SPBO. The SPBO indicates that the proposed actions (including the placement of compatible sediment, repair or replacement of groins and jetties, and navigation channel maintenance on the beaches of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida) have the potential to adversely affect nesting females of these species, their nests, and hatchlings on all nesting beaches where shore protection activities occur.

WEST INDIAN MANATEE: The Corps has evaluated the proposed activities and their potential to affect the West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris). Manatees traverse the inlet when accessing the hardbottom resources south of the inlet for feeding or thermal refuge during winter. Sebastian Inlet State Park personnel report mating herds observed in the shallow bay adjacent to the A1A bridge on the north side of the inlet and manatees feed on the seagrass beds in the western portion of the inlet. Pursuant to review of the “State of Florida Effect Determination Key for the Manatee in Florida” (April 2013), a review of the Manatee 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 applicant agrees to follow the ‘Standard Manatee Conditions for In-Water Work (2011)’ and provide a dedicated manatee observer during in-water work. It is unclear at this time whether the District will abide by seasonal restrictions with no dredging between November 15 and March 31. Provided compliance with these conditions, it is the Corps’ determination that the proposed project “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” the West Indian manatee or its critical habitat.

PIPING PLOVER, LEAST TERN & RUFA RED KNOT: The Corps has determined the proposed project is not within critical habitat for the piping plover, least tern, or rufa red knot; however, potential foraging and roosting habitat exists within the Action Area. Since 2013, Ecological Associates, Inc. has conducted formal piping plover surveys in support of the Sebastian Inlet Sand Bypassing Project, with a total of 14 birds observed in the beach fill template south of the inlet (R-3 to R-17). A review of the database revealed an additional 5 piping plovers observed over the last 10 years. The District will adhere to the Conservation Measures outlined in the P3BO to minimize impacts to wintering piping plover, least tern, rufa red knot, and their foraging habitat including implementation of surveys for non-breeding shorebirds. Therefore, the Corps has determined the proposed project “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” the wintering piping plover, least tern, and rufa red knot through disturbance and disruption of essential activities such as foraging and roosting caused by the operation of heavy machinery and construction equipment but is not anticipated to jeopardize the continued existence of these species.

EASTERN INDIGO SNAKE: The USFWS has not identified any critical habitat or consultation areas for the eastern indigo snake, however, the presence of gopher tortoise burrows within the Action Area is a key indicator of indigo snake habitat. A gopher tortoise survey of the Sebastian Inlet District Dredge Material Management Area (DMMA), conducted on March 25, 2020, found 59 burrows potentially occupied by gopher tortoises on the outer berm edge. It is possible that indigo snakes inhabit the areas surrounding the DMMA but is not likely to occur inside the berm where sand will be placed. Since the site was built in 2010, there have been no sightings of indigo snakes in the DMMA. Pursuant to review of the “Eastern Indigo Snake Programmatic Effect Determination Key” (July 2017), a review of the key resulted in the following sequential determination: A>B>C>D>E, “may affect, not likely to adversely affect” the eastern indigo snake. Provided compliance with the conditions within the key, the Corps has determined the proposed project “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” the West Indian manatee or its critical habitat.

ATLANTIC SALT MARSH SNAKE: The Corps has evaluated the proposed project with regards to its potential effects on Atlantic salt marsh snake (Nerodia clarkii taeniata). The Atlantic salt marsh snake inhabits coastal salt marshes and mangrove swamps. Specifically, it occurs along shallow tidal creeks and pools, in a saline environment ranging from brackish to full strength. It is often associated with fiddler crab burrows. These conditions do not present themselves in the Action Area. In consideration of the location of the project site and the information noted above, the Corps determined the project would have “no effect” on this species.

FLORIDA SCRUB-JAY: The Corps has determined the proposed project will have “no effect” on the Florida Scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens). The Florida scrub-jay inhabits sand pine and xeric oak scrub, and scrubby flatwoods, which occur in some of the highest and driest areas of Florida – ancient sandy ridges that run down the middle of the state, old sand dunes along the coasts, and sandy deposits along rivers in the interior of the state. These conditions do not present themselves within the action area.

SOUTHEASTERN BEACH MOUSE: The Corps has determined the proposed project will have “no effect” on the southeastern beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus niveiventris). The population within Sebastian Inlet State Park was extirpated by domestic cats in 1972. Currently, a trapping program has been implemented and there are plans to translocate individuals to the park in the future (USFWS 2019e). Construction activities are not likely to result in any negative effects on the Southeastern beach mouse. Although the species once inhabited the dune system along the sand placement template in Sebastian Inlet State park, it has since been extirpated. There is no current data supporting a determination that any population remains, although a trapping program has been implemented and there are plans to translocate individuals to the park in the future (USFWS 2019e). In general, sand placement on the beach and associated construction activities occur seaward of the toe of the existing primary dune line and thus, would not impact potential beach mouse habitat.

JOHNSON’S SEAGRASS: Seagrass monitoring is conducted prior to and following each maintenance dredging event of the sand trap and/or navigation channel to fulfill Specific Condition 4c of the FDEP permit No. 0270746-006, which authorizes the deepening of the existing sand trap and the periodic maintenance dredging of the sand trap and Sebastian Inlet using a cutterhead dredge.

The Sebastian Inlet Seagrass Monitoring Program’s “2019 Annual Seagrass Monitoring Report” prepared by Atkins concluded the finalized seagrass coverage feature class (post-groundtruthing) yielded ~108.71 acres of seagrass, equivalent to 74.97% of the mitigation zone established in previous Sebastian Inlet Channel Dredge permit, SAJ-2002-7868 (IP). Shoal grass and Johnson’s seagrass continue to be the predominant seagrass species; however, manatee grass appears to be returning to the shoal. A separate figure shows the distribution of Johnson’s seagrass within the mitigation zone in 2019 and the designated critical habitat areas. Johnson’s seagrass (or a species combination including Johnson’s seagrass) was present at ~65% of all sites that contained seagrass in 2019, which is more than the 2018 survey (~43% of all sites). Johnson’s seagrass has been significant in the recovery of seagrasses on the flood tidal shoal and the stability of the shoal as seagrasses recolonize. From 2018 to 2019, there was an increase in seagrass shoal-wide of ~7.86 acres. Based on the finding of the 2019 Annual Seagrass Monitoring Report, the Corps has determined that the proposed project will have “no effect” on Johnson’s seagrass.

WOOD STORK: In Florida, all wood stork rookeries are mapped and monitored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The proposed Project is within a core foraging area for the wood stork with the nearest colony (No. BC52) located 2.7 miles northwest of the Action Area. During breeding season (October to May), a 1,500-m (0.9-mi) primary “no disturbance zone” surrounding the colony is required until all young have fledged the nest. Additionally, a 2,500-m (1.6-mi) secondary zone is required for foraging and roosting, in which minimal disturbance is allowed. While the Action Area lies within the core foraging area for the BC52 colony, it is outside of both the primary and secondary zones. The Corps has determined pursuant to the “Wood Stork Effect Determination Key” (September 2008), the proposed project will have “no effect” on the species. A review of the key resulted in the following sequential determination: A>B, “no effect”.

NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE (NMFS): The Corps has determined the proposed project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect swimming sea turtles; the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata); and also the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis).

SWIMMING SEA TURTLES: Swimming sea turtles are likely to utilize the inlet, seagrass beds, and hardbottom reefs within the Action Area. Based on a review of the Section 7 Consultation Biological Opinion (JAXBO), the Project Effects Determinations for Activities Occurring in Florida table indicates that the proposed project “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” swimming sea turtles during dredging and shoreline stabilization activities.

NORTH ATLANTIC RIGHT WHALE: Proposed activities “may affect, but are not likely to adversely affect” the North Atlantic right whale. Although sightings are reported offshore of Sebastian Inlet, and a mother-calf pair were observed within the Sebastian Inlet in 2016, they are unlikely to occur in the inlet or nearshore habitats within the Action Area, which is not designated as critical habitat for the species. To avoid potential encounters with whales, the District has agreed to implement the NOAA’s Vessel Strike Avoidance Measures. Therefore, the Corps has determined that his project “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” the right whale.

ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT (EFH): This public notice initiates consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service on EFH as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 1996. While EFH is identified within the action areas of this project, the proposed activities are a continuance of ongoing maintenance efforts and no expansion beyond the previously permitted efforts is proposed. Similar activities have been a regular occurrence for this inlet and surrounding areas since the inlet was constructed in 1918. The RAR indicated coastal areas below the mean high water line could be utilized by coral including nearshore and inshore hard bottom and worm reefs, shrimp, migratory pelagics, snapper, and grouper throughout various life stages. Indications are that fill placed above the mean high water line would not have a substantial adverse impact on EFH, Habitats of Particular Concern (HAPC), or federally managed fisheries in the South Atlantic. The 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.

NEARSHORE AND INSHORE HARD BOTTOM AND WORM REEFS: Post-Construction Nearshore Hardbottom Monitoring Survey was completed in June 2019 (as required by (Florida Department of Environmental Protection [FDEP] Permit No. 0270746-011-JN and United States Army Corp of Engineers [USACE] Permit No. SAJ-1992-01224 [SP-IS])). The study indicated “the nearshore hardbottom biological community was algal dominated; however, non-living sediments composed much of the quadrat percent cover as sediment over hardbottom. Non-living substrates also made up a large amount of the seafloor as >30 cm deep shore parallel sand troughs were evident along most monitoring transects. Red macroalgae and turfs were the most prevalent algae taxa, with wormrock contributing substantially to the fauna. Wormrock abundance followed similar geographic distribution as in 2018 but was significantly lower in percent cover in 2019. Wormrock, however, is known to exhibit annual fluctuations in recruitment and growth, so this is likely a natural process.

The nearshore hardbottom edge mapping showed that much of the landward edge was intertidally exposed low relief limestone covered by filamentous turf algae. Slightly less intertidally exposed area was mapped in 2019, and the general trend was slightly further from shore than in 2018. This intertidally exposed hardbottom has historically shown cycles of exposure and burial, dependent on storm activity and other natural processes. Flora and fauna along the subtidal sections of the nearshore hardbottom edge were similar to those recorded along the monitoring transects and in previous years, dominated by turf algae and wormrock. Areas with canopy-forming macroalgae were also observed throughout the Project area, and drift macroalgae occasionally piled up inside the landward edge of hardbottom, obscuring the benthos.

The 2019 Immediate Post-construction monitoring results were compared to the 2018 dataset through non-parametric means to assess any potential impacts from the 2019 fill project. The analyses indicated the two years were significantly different based on percent cover data; however, no direct link to sediment impacts in the percent cover dataset were evident and decreases in macroalgal and wormrock percent cover were the main factors driving the significant results. In consideration of the monitoring results, the Corps determination is that the proposed project “may effect, but is not likely to adversely affect” nearshore and inshore hard bottom and worm reefs.

SHRIMP: Pursuant to the Corps’ RAR assessment, the Action Area may support EFH for shrimp (Farfantepenaeus spp., Penaeus sp., and/or Litopenaeus spp.). Areas that meet the criteria for essential fish habitat-habitat areas of particular concern (EFH-HAPCs) for penaeid shrimp include all coastal inlets, all state designated nursery habitats of particular importance to shrimp, and state-identified overwintering areas. In consideration of the location of the project site and the work proposed, the Corps determination is that the proposed project “may effect, but is not likely to adversely affect” these species.

SNAPPER/GROUPER: Pursuant to the Corps’ RAR assessment, the Action Area may support snapper (Lutjanus spp.) and grouper (Mycteroperca spp. and/or Epinephelus spp.). Areas that meet the criteria for EFH-HAPCs for species in the snapper-grouper management unit include medium to high profile offshore hard bottoms where spawning normally occurs; localities of known or likely periodic spawning aggregations; nearshore hard bottom areas; mangrove habitat; seagrass habitat; oyster/shell habitat; all coastal inlets; all state-designated nursery habitats of particular importance to snapper grouper; and Council-designated Artificial Reef Special Management Zones. In consideration of the location of the project site and the work proposed, the Corps determination is that the proposed project “may effect, but is not likely to adversely affect” these species.

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 Corps has verified the extent of Federal jurisdiction.

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 Cocoa Permits Section, 400 High Point Drive, Cocoa, Florida 32926 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 and waters. 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, John Baehre, in writing at the Cocoa Permits Section, 400 High Point Drive, Cocoa, Florida 32926, by electronic mail at or by telephone at (321)504-3771 extension 13.

IMPACT ON NATURAL RESOURCES: Preliminary review of this application indicates that an Environmental Impact Statement will not be required. 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. By means of this notice, we are soliciting comments on the potential effects of the project on threatened or endangered species or their habitat.

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 of 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 decision, comments are used to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and the other public interest factors listed above. Comments are used in the preparation of an Environmental Assessment and/or an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act 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.