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) as described below:
APPLICANT: Coral Restoration Foundation
c/o Phanor Montoya-Maya
8911 Overseas Highway
Tavernier, FL 33070
WATERWAY AND LOCATION: The project will affect waters of the United States associated with the Atlantic Ocean. The project site is referenced by the name of Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) Pickles Reef Shallow Water Coral Rescue Nursery. The site is located offshore, Tavernier, in the Florida Keys, approximately 5.3 miles (4.63nautical miles) southeast offshore mile marker 92, Ocean side, East of Harry Harris County Park in Tavernier. The project site sits inshore of Pickles Reef, in federal waters, within waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, in Monroe County, Florida. See enclosed location map and geographic coordinates.
Directions to the site are as follows: The project site is only accessible by boat, approximately 5.3 miles offshore of the shoreline of Harry Harris Park in Tavernier. See enclosed location map and geographic coordinates.
FOUR CORNER GEOGRAPHIC COORDINATES:
Corner 1 (NE): Latitude: 24.988638° North
Longitude: 80.417863° West
Corner 2 (SE): Latitude: 24.988436° North
Longitude: 80.417997° West
Corner 3 (SW): Latitude: 24.988687° North
Longitude: 80.418537° West
Corner 4 (NW): Latitude: 24.988950° North
Longitude: 80.418340° West
Basic: The basic project purpose is to install temporary structures to house rescued corals and for coral propagation for marine restoration, research, and habitat enhancement.
Overall: The overall project purpose is to install temporary structures in open water to house rescued corals for coral propagation for the purpose of marine restoration, research, and habitat enhancement in waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Monroe County, Florida.
EXISTING CONDITIONS: The project site is located within open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The site is an existing coral nursery, previously authorized by the Corps under SAJ-2019-04469-(NW-GGM). The CRF offshore Pickles Reef Shallow Water Coral Rescue Nursery was established to support removal of corals during rescue efforts.The outer dimensions of the site are limited to 65 meters by 35 meters (0.5 acres). The submerged sea-bottom, at the project site, consists of a sand composition and has an average water depth of 10’. No natural occurring corals, hardbottom or seagrass were identified within the project area (see enclosed images). Currently, the site supports 50 small structures, consisting of small 2-foot tables that support corals on trays anchored to the seafloor with rebar and attached to a sand anchor with 1,200-pound monofilament. A variety of different coral species are proposed to continue to be housed and grown at this site, including ESA-listed coral species.
PROPOSED WORK: The applicant seeks authorization for a 10-year permit to install additional structures and continue work at the existing CRF offshore Pickles Reef Shallow Water Coral Rescue Nursery site for the purpose of housing rescued corals, for coral propagation for the purpose of marine restoration, research, and habitat enhancement. Specifically, the proposed work consists of the temporary deployment of a maximum of 150 Low-lying PVC table-like structures or similar at any one given time over the duration of the Corps authorization, 10 years. In addition to the proposed structures 150 structures, the applicant proposes to install two (2) subsurface vessel moorings. The proposed overall sea-bottom footprint for the existing CRF offshore Pickles Reef Shallow Water Coral Rescue Nursery site boundaries will not exceed 0.5 acres of sandy submerged sea bottom. All structures shall be placed in sand sea bottom only. All structures shall be removed at the end of the project and the site shall be restore to pre-construction conditions. The project is further described on the enclosed project exhibits and supplemental documents (Sheet 1 of 7). The proposed project is in waters of the United States.
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:
Due to the nature of the work, the applicant could not avoid conducting the proposed work within waters of the United States. The deployment of coral nursery structures is proposed on areas of sandy bottom only, areas that do not support hard bottom, corals or seagrass. Furthermore, the project has been designed to maintain safe navigability by maintaining a minimum of 8’ clearance between MLW and the top of any of the proposed structures. The project has been designed in a manner not to result on the aggregation of material or discharge of any fill material that would alter the sea-bottom.
No materials will be dredged or discharged as a result of the proposed work.
The applicant has included the following best management practices on their proposal:
“Environmental controls, Sea Turtle and Smalltooth Sawfish Construction Conditions, and Standard Manatee Conditions for In-Water Work - 2011. All construction activities will be completed during daylight hours in good weather and sea conditions, and use clean material through approved installation methodology. Maintenance and inspection of these structures will be continuous throughout the year and removal of these structures will occur when necessary. In circumstances of marine debris removal, CRF will lift the material straight up and not drag debris through any seagrass beds, coral reefs, coral, or hard bottm habitats. We will continue to communicate our work plans with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.”
COMPENSATORY MITIGATION – The applicant is not proposing mitigation because they are not proposing any dredge or fill of surface waters and all water impacts are temporary, waters will be restored to pre-disturbance following completion of the activity. Furthermore, the proposed activities should result in net increases in aquatic resource functions and services.
CULTURAL RESOURCES: The Corps is aware of recorded historic resources within or adjacent to the permit area and is evaluating the undertaking for effects to historic properties as required under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This public notice serves to inform the public of the proposed undertaking and invites comments including those from local, State, and Federal government Agencies with respect to historic resources. Our final determination relative to historic resource impacts may be subject to additional coordination with the State Historic Preservation Officer, those federally recognized tribes with concerns in Florida and the Permit Area, and other interested parties.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has determined the project may affect but is not likely to adversely affect (“MANLAA”) the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) and would not adversely modify its designated critical habitat. Since the proposal by the applicant is for in-water construction, potential impacts to the endangered West Indian manatee were evaluated using Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, and the State of Florida Effect Determination Key for the Manatee in Florida, April 2013 (Key). Use of the Key resulted in the sequence A-B-C-G -N-O-P (5) “may affect, not likely to adversely affect”, where no further consultation with the Service is necessary. This determination is based on the applicant following the standard Manatee construction conditions for the proposed activity. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has given concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. No further coordination with the FWS is required.
The Corps has determined the proposed project may affect but is not likely to adversely affect (“MANLAA”) the Swimming green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) and their designated critical habitat, hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), kemps ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys kempii), leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), Giant Manta ray (Manta birostris), smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata), Oceanic Whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus), Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), Acorpora sp. and its designated critical habitat, and corals species; (Dendrogyra cylindrus, Orbicella annularis, Orbicella faveolata, Orbicella franksi, Mycetophyllia ferox) species. A no effect determination was reached on smalltooth sawfish critical habitat. The Corps will request National Marine Fisheries Service concurrence with these determinations 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 0.5 acres of submerged sea bottom utilized by various life stages of marine species. Our initial determination is that the proposed action would not have a substantial adverse impact on EFH or Federally managed fisheries in the Florida Keys. 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.
Navigation: The proposed activity is not located in the vicinity of a federal navigation channel.
SECTION 408: The applicant will not require permission under Section 14 of the Rivers and Harbors Act (33 USC 408) because the activity, in whole or in part, would not alter, occupy, or use a Corps Civil Works project.
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.
COMMENTS regarding the potential authorization of the work proposed should be submitted in writing to the attention of the District Engineer through the Keys Permits Section, 9900 Southwest 107th Avenue, Suite 203, Miami, Florida, 33176, within 21 days from the date of this notice (i.e. on or before January 18th, 2023).
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, Gletys Guardia-Montoya at the letterhead address, by electronic mail at Gletys.Guardia-Montoya@usace.army.mil, or by telephone at 786-920-7183.
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.
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.