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SAJ-2018-03427 (SP-LCK)

Published Nov. 16, 2020
Expiration date: 12/1/2020
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: The Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has received a request to modify a the Department of the Army (DA) permits 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: Mr. Drew Bartlett
Executive Director, South Florida Water Management District
3301 Gun Club Road
West Palm Beach, Florida 33406

BACKGROUND:

The Corps evaluated the construction and operation of the A-2 Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) titled Section 203, Everglades Agricultural Area Southern Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area. The final EIS served two purposes: 1) consider the impacts of the Federal Civil Works project, the A-2 STA and Reservoir, authorized in Water Resources Development Act 2018, on the human environment, and 2) consider the impacts of the construction and operation of the A-2 STA. The final EIS was published in the federal register on January 24, 2020.

Subsequent to the final EIS, the Corps issued a DA permit to the South Florida Water Management District’s (SFWMD) to construct the A-2 STA. The A-2 STA project includes an STA with a 6,500 acre effective treatment area, an inflow/outflow canal, a water control structure, and associate infrastructure. The project is permitted in three Phases. The Corps issued a DA permit for Phase I on April 17, 2020, which consisted of site preparation. The Corps modified the permit on May 18, 2020 to authorize construction of an inflow/outflow canal, which is Phase II. The SFWMD is currently requesting that the Corps modify the DA permit to construct Phase III, which is construction of the STA and associated infrastructure. The SFWMD submitted an operation plan as part of their request.

As a requirement of the permit, the Final Operational Plan would be subject to further National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, public and agency review, and if applicable, Section 7 coordination. Therefore; the Corps is providing the Operational Plan for review and comment.

WATERWAY & LOCATION: The A-2 STA would affect waters of the United States associated with the Miami Canal. The project site is located within a 6,500-acre area in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) off of US Highway 27 approximately 9.75 miles South of County Road 827, Township 46 South, Range 35E (Section 13, Section 22-26, Section 35-36); Range 36E (Section 18-19 & Section 30-31), Palm Beach County, Florida.

Directions to the site are as follows: From SFWMD's G-720 Structure [located on the West Side of A-1 FEB], travel west on the STA 3/4 Inflow Canal's north levee road approximately 7.7 miles [passing north of G-372] until the road turns north and becomes the L-23 Canal's east levee road. Continue north on the L-23 Canal's east levee road approximately 0.9 miles, then east on the first farm road encountered [which runs along the south side of the canal]. Continue east along the south side of the canal approximately 0.8 miles until farm road terminates at unnamed N-S farm road. Travel North on unnamed farm road approximately 0.5 miles and make a slight jog to cross the unnamed canal. Turn east and travel approximately 1.0 miles to the SE corner of the 560 acre site.

Approximate Central Coordinates:
Latitude: 26.46°
Longitude: -80.79°

PROJECT PURPOSE:

Basic: The basic project purpose is water quality improvements.

Overall: The overall project purpose is to improve the quality of water flows to the central Everglades (Water Conservation Area 3 and Everglades National Park) and Florida Bay. In addition, the construction of the A-2 Reservoir would include improvement of the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of water flows to central Everglades (Water Conservation Area 3 and Everglades National Park) and Florida Bay while increasing water supply or municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses.

PROPOSED WORK: The SFWMD requests to construct Phase III of the A-2 STA project, which includes the construction of (1) an STA with approximately 6,500 acres of effective treatment area divided into three east-west flowing cells, (2) a water control structure in the Miami Canal at the northwest corner of the STA and (3) additional infrastructure including pump stations. Phase III results in the discharge of fill in 286.5 acres of waters of the United States (8.4 acres of wetlands and 278.1 acres of tributaries including ditches and canals). Of the 274.4 acres of tributaries will be converted from shallow, open waters to wetlands. The remainder of the 221.6 acres of wetlands will be graded to obtain desired elevations but will remain wetlands. The interim-operational plan was reviewed in the final EIS prepared for the project. The Corps is placing the final operation plan on public notice.

Website postings:
If you wish to receive an electronic version of the operation plan sent to you, please contact Linda Knoeck at the letterhead address, by email at Linda.C.Knoeck@usace.army.mil, or by phone at 561-472-3531.

Below is a summary of the operation plan for A-2 STA:

A-2 STA OPERATION PLAN SUMMARY:
The Revised Operation Plan contains structure and canal descriptions, operational intent, and operational guidelines for the approximately 6,500 acre A-2 STA. The Operation Plan addresses operation of the A-2 STA, with and without, the A-2 Reservoir. The A-2 Reservoir will be constructed by the Corps after the A-2 STA is operational, but a temporary 650 cubic feet per second (cfs) inflow pump station will allow operation of the A-2 STA until the reservoir becomes operational. During this interim period, the A-2 STA will address Lake Okeechobee regulatory releases, when the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule directs moving lake water to the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs), pumped from the Miami Canal. After completion of the A-2 Reservoir it is anticipated that A-2 STA inflows will come through the A-2 Reservoir once it is constructed and operational. However, there may be times in which flows to the A-2 STA will not come from the A-2 Reservoir due to maintenance activities or drought conditions. During these times, temporary portable pumps will be employed to provide direct inflow to the A-2 STA from other sources (e.g. C-623 Inflow/Outflow Canal).

The A-2 STA is designed to reduce total phosphorus (TP) concentrations in the EAA runoff and Lake Okeechobee releases and promote that water south for Everglades Restoration. Wetland plants are a key component of the water treatment process and are categorized based on their growth habit: emergent aquatic vegetation (EAV) or submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). The A-2 STA cells were designed, and will be managed, to establish predominantly EAV in the inflow portion of each cell and mixed EAV/SAV in the downstream portion of each cell.

Prior to Completion of the A-2 Reservoir: During this operation period, the A-2 STA will address Lake Okeechobee Regulatory releases sent to the WCAs as directed by the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule via the Miami Canal. Water will be pumped to the C-640 Inflow Canal via S-640 Pump Station. The maximum surface water inflow rate during this period will be 650 cfs as determined by the capacity of the S-640 Pump Station.

Flow Conditions for the A-2 STA prior to the construction of the Reservoir will have a maximum inflow of 650 cfs. The pump station is designed to operate in all wet and dry season conditions; however, in the event of a loss of electric power, backup pumping capability will not be available. The temporary pump station may be used to assist the G-372 pump station in controlling surface water elevations in the Miami Canal upstream of G-373.

Treatment Cells will operate to encourage colonization and continued viability of wetland plants and associated algal communities and to optimize removal of phosphorus.

Pre-storm operations provide storage in A-2 STA prior to a heavy rainfall event. The minimum water depth for pre-storm drawdowns is 0.5 ft in all treatment cells. If storage in the A-2 STA can be created by discharging water prior to the storm event, a pre-storm drawdown may be initiated.

The A-2 STA inflow and outflow structures do not have automatic emergency backup power. If outflow structures gates are opened prior to the arrival of a storm even and utility power is lost during the event, there is a potential to over-drain the STA. Outflow structures S-642, S-644A/S-644B, and 646A/S-646B are equipped with a manual transfer switch with a generator receptacle to connect a portable backup emergency generator that would allow closure of the gates.

Further information can be found in the Operation Plan to address operation of the A-2 STA with the A-2 Reservoir.

MITIGATION: The project results in direct impacts to 8.4 acres of wetlands and 14.08 acres of agricultural canals and shallow agricultural ditches through the placement of fill. As compensatory mitigation, the SWFMD is required to achieve ecological lift by removing exotic vegetation within the remaining 221.6 acres of wetlands within the STA footprint. The STA contributes to improving the quality of water discharged into the Miami River. The STA site is strategically located adjacent to the planned federal A-2 Reservoir, the A-1 FEB, STA 2 and STA 3/4, each of which contribute to improving water quality entering downstream waters. The project has high likelihood for ecological success and sustainability. The project will increase water levels within the STA and maintain hydrology to sustain the wetlands. Rehydration of the wetlands is expected to not only offset the wetland impacts, but may potentially offer significant supplemental ecological lift for other purpose. The mitigation would offer ecological benefits at the site of the impacts and would offer a large acreage of habitat used by aquatic wildlife, including threatened or endangered species in the local area.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: In consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for the construction of the A-2 STA, the Corps made the determination that the project:

may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the federally threatened Audubon’s crested caracara (Polyborus plancus audubonii, now Caracara cheriway; caracara), federally endangered Everglade snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus; snail kite), and federally threatened wood stork (Mycteria americana).

may affect the federally threatened eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi; indigo snake) and endangered Florida panther (Felis concolor coryi; panther).

In the FWS’ biological opinion (Service Code: 04EF2000-2018-F-0867) dated March 20, 2020, FWS determined that the proposed project will not jeopardize the continued existence of the following federally listed species or adversely modify designated critical habitat: eastern indigo snake and Florida panther. The biological opinion also included concurrence with the Corps’ determination that the proposed project may affect but is not likely to adversely affect the following federally listed species or their designated critical habitat: Audubon’s (northern) crested caracara, Everglade snail kite, and wood stork. The Corps is evaluating whether it is appropriate to re-initiate Section 7 consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service due to the operational plan by separate letter.

NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT:
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis will be updated, if appropriate, if changes occur to what was previously evaluated in the EIS for the A-2 STA . The Corps will update our NEPA analysis by tiering off of the final EIS with an Environmental Assessment to address the revised operation plan.

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 been verified by Corps personnel.

AUTHORIZATION FROM OTHER AGENCIES: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is modifying the water quality permit for the A-2 STA and reservoir to include construction of Phase III of the A-2 STA.

Comments regarding the application should be submitted in writing to the District Engineer at the above address within 15 days from the date of this notice. If you have any questions concerning this application, you may contact Linda C. Knoeck of this office either by letter at the letterhead address, by telephone at 561-472-3531, by e-mail at linda.c.knoeck@usace.army.mil

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.