Monthly Archives: November 2020

Conservation Updates

Eagle Audubon Society Conservation Efforts

November 2, 2020

Below are two items of conservation interest Eagle Audubon is trying to follow. We hope to have more information in the near future to keep you informed, and who might be people to contact with your opinions.

State planning related to new transportation corridors through conservation lands and other undeveloped lands.

“The Department of Transportation (DOT) M-CORES Task Forces have concluded their recommendations on three new possible transportation corridors through Florida’s rural areas. 

Charles Lee, Director of Advocacy of Audubon Florida, explains, “The Task Forces have protected Florida’s natural areas and rural lands from what could have been a disaster. In effect, the Task Force recommendations have directed DOT to use rigorous criteria in considering any road expansions, declared that there is not any immediate need for these corridors, and rejected the rush to build projects that seemed to fuel the original 2019 Legislation.”

“The paths of these new roads would have opened large parts of remaining rural Florida to development, and potentially destroyed important conservation lands and wildlife habitats. The huge cost of these new roads could have drained Florida’s transportation funds away from locations where road improvements are truly needed in urban areas.”

“Highlights of the Task Forces’ findings:

·       There is NO consensus based on current data to support new “greenfield” turnpikes through the study areas (a “greenfield” project is a new road through areas where roads do not now exist).

·       The Task Forces recommend that DOT consider upgrading or expanding existing roads if new capacity is needed, and potentially co-locating toll lanes within or adjacent to existing roads, or in certain circumstances, very large existing power line rights of way.

·       The Task Forces demanded real economic and traffic projection data to support the need for any new road construction, and specified considerations for the things DOT must include in the “need” determination process.

·       The Task Forces required that DOT stay completely out of any conservation lands with any new alignments, and included recommendations for incorporating wildlife crossings.

·       In all three reports, the Task Forces urged the Legislature to reconsider the deadline to begin construction by January 2023, which was written into the original legislation.

·       The Task Forces included language in their reports requiring DOT to plan for, and fund, extensive conservation land acquisitions within 10 miles of any M-Cores project. Under this provision, DOT would have to fund conservation land acquisitions in conjunction with roadbuilding costs, and collaborate with the Florida Forever Program and other land acquisition programs to fund purchases on the Florida Forever Priority List, as well as other lands prioritized for acquisition by state conservation agencies. DOT will have to spend roadbuilding money to buy environmental lands, and develop a plan to do so integrated with the highway plan itself. “

Florida request to manage Clean Water Act permitting in the state of Florida.

The following are parts of a letter Florida Audubon is sending to the EPA regarding the state of Florida’s request to assume administration of the Clean Water Act Section 404:

Kelly Laycock

Water Division, OWSPB

U.S. EPA Region 4

61 Forsyth St. SW

Atlanta, GA 30303

Via email: 404Assumption-FL@epa.gov

Re: Comments on Florida’s Request to Assume Administration of a Clean Water Act Section 404 Program, Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OW–2018–0640

Dear Mr. Laycock,

“Audubon Florida and the undersigned organizations are writing to express our opposition to the State of Florida’s request to assume administration of a Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 Program. The State’s request requires careful consideration due to the scope of wetlands involved (Florida contains 20% of all wetlands in the United States) and the known and ongoing challenges faced by states that have previously assumed a 404 program. Based on the information presented in the State’s application package, it is premature to grant this assumption because the program description is not “full and complete” as required, does not guarantee a program that is as stringent as the current one, does not have a sufficient list of retained waters, and does not demonstrate that sufficient resources will be available to state agencies to carry out all necessary work. The information below further explains our concerns relating to insufficiencies of the program content and resources.”

“Section 404(g)(1) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) requires a “full and complete description of the program” to be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Yet, critical aspects of the program are not presented in sufficient detail and some aspects of the State’s program still appear to be fluid, thus making it difficult for the EPA and the public to assess the sufficiency of the program. For example, Section 5.2.3 of the State 404 Program Applicant’s Handbook states the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (Department) “may” use various resources to determine a project’s potential impact on listed species, but does not state any minimum level of due diligence that will be completed. Additionally, it now appears the anticipated process has changed and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will be making the initial listed species determinations.”

“When the Corps issues a 404 permit, it constitutes a federal action subject to the requirements of NEPA. This often results in an Environmental Assessment (EA) that provides considerable information to everyone engaged in the permitting process, including stakeholders. Projects with significant environmental impacts will trigger an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This process requires an in-depth analysis of the project and its impacts, and identifies the environmentally preferred alternative for the project. Loss of such a rigorous planning tool would be a detriment to all, including the Department in its efforts to protect Florida’s environment. The State’s application does not describe when such detailed analyses would be required, what process would be used, how permitting timelines would be affected, or that there are sufficient resources available to either the Department or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to carry out these rigorous efforts.”

“Assumption of a federal section 404 program and all of its responsibilities will require significant additional resources within the Department and most likely within FWC, too. However, section 62-331.120, Florida Administrative Code, states that no fees will be collected for the 404 permitting program and the State is not increasing the budget of either agency to accommodate new responsibilities of the 404 program. The State suggests it will handle all additional work by redirecting existing workforce, an approach that does not seem sufficient, especially given the urgent need for additional resources in the Department’s other efforts (e.g., improving water quality sampling and assessment activities and the completion of Total Maximum Daily Load reports and Basin Management Action Plans). Additionally, the Department will require significant resources to generate comparable analyses to the EA and EIS reports currently produced by federal agencies. It seems unlikely the State could replace the value and level of the protection afforded by the current federal program without any additional expenditure of resources.”

Eagle Audubon will try to stay on top of this situation and keep members informed.