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SAJ-2017-01102 (SP-CSH)

U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS - REGULATORY
Published July 29, 2021
Expiration date: 8/13/2021
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:
City of Crystal River
Attn: Ken Frink
123 NW Highway 19
Crystal River, FL 34428

WATERWAY AND LOCATION: The project would affect waters of the United States associated with King’s Bay and Crystal River. The project limits begin from Best Western at address 614 NW US Highway 19, then head east to the main entrance of the proposed Riverwalk at the intersection of US Highway 19 and NW 2nd Avenue near Charlie’s Fish House Restaurant (address 513 NW 2nd Avenue); then south to terminus at Kings Bay Park (address 203 NW 3rd Street) near NW 3rd Street.

Directions to the site are as follows: Travel on US 19 to the intersection with NW 3rd Street. Travel west on NW 3rd Street to the end of the road parking area for Kings Bay Park. Southeast portion of the project area is located within Kings Bay Park.

APPROXIMATE CENTRAL COORDINATES:
Latitude 28.8898179°N
Longitude 82.596098°W

PROJECT PURPOSE:
Basic: The basic project purpose is recreation.
Overall: The overall project purpose is to provide pedestrian-only water access to bring tourists and general foot traffic and events to the waterfront downtown commercial areas and to enhance the business of existing and potential future commercial enterprises.

EXISTING CONDITIONS: Kings Bay is a 600-acre bay, fed by over 70 springs, and is designated as an Outstanding Florida Water and a Critical Habitat and home to more than 600 West Indian Manatees in the winter. Kings Bay draws 400,000 visitors yearly to Citrus County and the City of Crystal River. Landward access to Kings Bay by the public is limited with only a few public parks located on or near the water and no access within the commercial corridor along US Highway 19 on the north part of the bay. The City of Crystal River has designed the Kings Bay River Walk to provide access along Kings Bay for visitors and locals to experience and enjoy the natural beauty of the bay. The Kings Bay Riverwalk alignment will traverse the commercial corridor along the northern portions of Kings Bay (referred to as Cedar Cove or Cedar Bay) near US Highway 19 from the Best Western Hotel east and then south to the Kings Bay (NW 3rd Street) Park. The Phase I (over land) project area construction was completed in 2018. A small portion of the over-water portion of the Kings Bay Riverwalk in front of the Best Western Hotel and the adjacent (Crackers) restaurant was previously constructed and is in place.

Resource assessment surveys found a significant quantity of beneficial submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), almost exclusively American eelgrass (Vallisneria americana), observed within each of the 11 Assessment Areas, with a range of 22.5 – 97.5% cover, and an average of 63.5% cover across the project area. Depths within the area ranged from 1-7 feet. The dominant SAV community consisted of American eelgrass, with much smaller cover by benthic filamentous algae in various states of decay (muck), must smaller quantities of live algae; SAV species Eurasian watermilifoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), and hydrilla (Hydrilla verticallata) were also noted in small numbers.

PROPOSED WORK: The applicant seeks authorization to construct a 19,316-square-foot boardwalk tie-in to the existing Phase I landward Riverwalk construction project. The boardwalk will be comprised of 13,995-square-feet of over-water structures, 1,546-square-feet of permanent wetland fill impacts, and 3,775-square-feet of upland impervious areas.

Some modifications to the existing boardwalk are proposed, with a section east of the Crackers dock proposed to be removed and replaced, while existing constructed Riverwalk west of this location will remain in place. The proposed alignment of the Riverwalk Phase II includes approximately 14,000-square-feet of concrete piling supported boardwalk overwater running from the restaurant area east to NW 2nd Ave, encompassing the entire northern (upland) shoreline area. The remainder of the overwater Riverwalk boardwalk areas include and overwater boardwalk adjacent to the DSP Marina LLC shoreline of the NW 2nd Ave southern terminus, and a proposed canal bridge crossing just north of Kings Bay Park where it connects to existing water dependent facilities (pier, kayak launch, boat docks) and the upland portion of the constructed trail associated with the park.

The Riverwalk will be an elevated, 10-foot wide multiuse pre-cast concrete trail with multiple “bump out” areas for observation/education and a pavilion totaling approximately 14,000-square-feet over-water. Most sections of the overwater boardwalk will fall at or slightly above 5-feet elevation (NAVD88), with a tidal mean high water elevation of 1.01-feet recorded for the area. The proposed bridge crossing will be higher elevated (above elevation 11’) to allow for continued boat access under the bridge for two private single-family residences located east of the bridge location channel.

Additionally, two existing boat ramps on NW 3rd Avenue and NW 2nd Street will be removed for construction of the Boardwalk, resulting in a boat traffic free zone for manatee habitat.

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 proposed design is the minimum footprint that limits the encroachment and impact on the existing and future commercial property operations while maximizing the visitor experience. A totally upland Riverwalk on the landward side of the water was not feasible due to existing commercial development on the bay, one parcel of which is built with no setback from the water, and the extremely limited size/depth of the lots located between the bay and US Highway 19.

COMPENSATORY MITIGATION: The applicant has provided the following explanation why compensatory mitigation should not be required:

The proposed boardwalk will cover slightly less than 14,000-square-feet overwater (slightly less than 1/3 of an acre), with most of the boardwalk elevated to 5-feet (NAVD88) or higher to minimize shading impacts, and pilings will be installed via vibratory method to minimize disturbance. The current ecological function will not be significantly impacted by shading from the 10-foot wide boardwalk. In addition, the degree of restoration efforts to date by the City of Crystal River of algae removal and eelgrass plantings throughout the bay would outweigh the minor mitigation that would typically be expected for proposed impacts. As of October 2020, over 46 acres of eelgrass has been planted within the bay as part of the restoration efforts, and the plantings have also been seen regenerating into new adjacent areas. In addition, restoration efforts are to continue through at least 2023, and these future planned restoration efforts should also be considered when determining the need for compensatory mitigation.

The total fill and clearing impacts include 890-square-feet (0.02 acres) of permanent forested wetland impacts and 656-square-feet (0.015 acres) of forested wetland clearing / shading impacts where piling supported sections of the boardwalk will be constructed over wetlands. The UMAM scorings find the 890 square feet of forested fill impacts will result in a 0.01 unit functional loss, and the 656 square feet of clearing impacts will result in a 0.003 unit functional loss, or essentially no significant (0.00) functional loss.

While the proposed boat ramp closings do not directly create forested wetland habitat for compensation for impacts, they do improve the water environment quality of forested wetlands within the project area, including those forested wetlands within Kings Bay Park. Therefore, we have prepared a UMAM assessment to account for this anticipated benefit. Because the total project impact is so low, and the project is intended to serve as a public use / recreational amenity, it is our opinion the boat ramp closures should provide sufficient lift to compensate for the minimal / essentially “De minimus” impacts to be caused by construction of the boardwalk. The continued eelgrass / Kings Bay restoration efforts should also be taken into consideration. The area between the upland and the River Walk will also provide an opportunity for enhancement projects that will no longer be subject to boat traffic, many of which can provide a general public educational component.

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 or its designated critical habitat. The Corps will request U.S. Fish and Wildlife concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. While the project is located in a Warm Water Aggregation Area (WWAA), the scope of the activity and protection measures to be implemented are such that the project will not result in adverse impacts to the Manatee. A construction schedule has not yet been determined, however, it is anticipated that in-water construction activities will occur in the Summer (non-manatee months May 1 – October 30) and that standard manatee construction protections will be in place including having an approved / authorized manatee observer present during any in-water construction. The construction area is located in the north end of the bay and is not in close proximity to any of the designated cold weather manatee sanctuaries, nor will construction work restrict access for manatees to any of the designated sanctuary areas.

The Corps has determined the proposed project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), or the Smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata). The Corps will request National Marine Fisheries Service concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
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. The proposal would impact approximately 0.32 acres of riverine habitat utilized by various life stages of Postlarval, juvenile and subadult shrimp; Postlarval, juvenile and adult red drum; Postlarval, juvenile and adult gray snapper; juvenile red and gag groupers; and juvenile and adult yellowtail and lane snappers. Our initial determination is that the proposed action would not have a substantial adverse impact on EFH or Federally managed fisheries in King’s Bay or Crystal River. 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 through the Tampa Permits Section within 15 days from the date of this notice to Caitlin.S.Hoch@usace.army.mil. Please reference this permit number, SAJ-2017-01102 (SP-CSH), on all submittals.

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, Caitlin Hoch-Nussbaum, in writing at Caitlin.S.Hoch@usace.army.mil; or by telephone at (813) 355-0789.

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.