NEPA Planning Meeting
Participants: Beth Reinhart (ACOE), Jenna Peterson, Daniel Howktt, Kristen Scheldt, Cecilia Brown, Scott Bettin, Lee Watts (BPA), Doug Evans, Scott Pavey, Mike Stevenon (BLM), Dave Derrick (River, Research and Design, Inc.), and Kathy Cousins (IDFG).
Presentations regarding the project plan and design were provided to the participants. Jenna Peterson began the discussion by affirming that BPA was the lead for compliance and that they are in the process of hiring a consultant to prepare an environmental assessment (EA). Cultural resource staff were already engaged and currently surveying the site. Noting that a 30 day comment period was required and then the 30 day final decision and appeal before the FONSI – the final regulatory compliance would be completed by September 1, 2013.
Cousins noted that in a telephone conference call on March 11th she thought a September 1 start date for the barging might work, but she had forgotten that most of the barging would be in shallow areas and that these areas dewatered much sooner than the rest of the lake, so the barging would need to start at least a month earlier on August 1. The barge needs at least four feet of clearance and engineers estimated it would take 33 days of barging to deliver all the stone to the project site. Cousins asked why not investigate whether a month’s time could be taken from the EA preparation and review?
Scott Bettin asked why not just delay the project a year. Cousins replied that she was directed by the Letter Agreement between the State and BPA to complete the project in the time frame outlined in the letter, as they had agreed to hold the lake at 2,051 feet next winter so the project construction could be completed. Bettin replied that he could get the lake held down the year after. He asked if it was necessary for the project to be completed this year and why not delay. Cousins answered that she was not able to make the decision to delay the project a year; that she was directed to complete the project in the contract period starting July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. She noted that Lee Watts had indicated that BPA would allow the funding to roll over into 2014 (turning to Lee Watts who confirmed). Cousins noted that she was told to follow the Letter Agreement, and the timing was complete the project this next winter, and so she hoped that they could look at meeting the goal of having the EA completed by August 1.
Petersen reviewed some of the other requirements such as holding scoping meetings and then creating a draft document and the review of the document by BLM and the ACOE. Beth Reinhart noted that they were already aware of the project and had discussed the project at length within the agency and said that they would be able to complete the review fairly quickly. Reinhart also said that if scoping meetings were being planned, then that satisfied them for the public notification. Petersen asked Doug Evans if they could review a document in a relatively short time period. Evans replied that they could most likely turn a document around relatively quickly: one or two weeks.
Reinhart also noted that they intended to process the project using a Nationwide Permit 27. They recognized that the project was large in scope but they believed it still fit within the Nationwide. With this, the ESA, SHPO and cultural resources needed to be completed. Reinhart said that an EA was not needed to complete the Nationwide Permit 27. (Also needed is 135 days for a Section 10 Waters.)
More discussion regarding time line to complete the EA; Cousins inquired on why so much effort was being put into the preparation of the EA when the document is being tiered off of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Could time be saved in document preparation? Petersen noted that BPA really did not need an EA for the project because is covered under the agency’s Programmatic EIS. Peterson said that BPA was only preparing an EA because the BLM lands, which are part of the project, are not included under the Programmatic EIS
Discussion then centered on whether BLM could contract and complete an EA by August 1; this discussion ended with Evans believing that it would take them just as long to contract out the EA as it would BPA.
Noting the project was well supported by the community and so the scoping would most likely not identify any significant concerns. Might that help to shorten any part of the time line? Thoughts about asking if the drawdown could be delayed, but then realized that altering the drawdown was too complicated and involved many more people; instead, investigating whether time could be taken from the preparation and review might be possible. Bettin states that BPA could get the drawdown schedule changed. Dave Derrick said that it was complicated to change a draw down but if that was the case, then it would be also great to see if the draw down could happen even a week faster on the other end.
Discussion returned to whether time could be found within the current schedule to meet the August 1 deadline. Peterson noted that the project was large in scope and magnitude and that it was reasonable and foreseeable that more work will occur, so the agency does not want to give an impression of “piece-milling” a large project.
Reinhart asked about the ESA process, and if any potential effect was identified, noting that if that was the case, then mitigating for these effects could take months. Peterson reported that she had not started the ESA process as of yet but would be issuing a letter to the USFWS very soon (next week possibly). Peterson asked Cousins if she felt that there were any issues. Cousins noted that there was the possibility of bull trout near and on portions of the project area, and that the USFWS will be looking at the project’s Best Management Practices (BMPs), which are in the draft BA. Noting that the construction was being proposed in the winter, during low water conditions also helps to reduce the possibility that the project would harm bull trout. Overall, the project is expected to improve conditions for fish habitat, and not harm. Cousins did not believe that there were would be many issues, except that the barging of rock was a new development, and she was not sure how the USFWS would respond to that change in the project proposal. She did not know if they would want a formal or informal consultation.
Discussion regarding the possibility of an agreement under ESA Section 7d (a risky agreement that allows work to start earlier) and could some of the work start earlier if those portions of the project were already covered under the Programmatic EIS. Road improvements to the site and the quarrying and stock piling of rocks could be started in May to prepare for the barging to start on August 1. It was noted that the access road way already need some improvement at present, and starting this type of work is already covered under the Wildlife Management Plan for the access site. Reinhart noted that she would need a letter fro the file from Craig Brengle that it was acceptable for the road to be improved and to stock pile rock and trees on the site. (Short discussion regarding trees, and that some trees were identified on one of the IDFG parcels i.e., Sunnyside, and that these could be barged over to the project site to save costs. Bettin suggests booming the large root wads. Later in afternoon, Kristin Scheldt noted that if the trees are harvested using BPA funds, then a cultural resource survey of the site was needed.)
Discussion about the delivery of rock to the site and the benefits to barging the rock to deliver it to the project site. Derrick explained that there would need to be 22,000 truck loads of rock moved during the winter, and that the contractors would constantly need to improve and work on road ways. Also, equipment needed to cross a temporary barge crossing over one of the deep channels. It would place more risk on the project to move 22,000 truck loads of rock over this temporary crossing.
Reminded that it was important not to do anything deemed pre-decisional. Noted that the cultural resource survey would be completed by the end of April, so if no major issued were decided then, it could be possible to start improving the roadway. Regarding the stock piling of rock – this was deemed not to be a risk because it was not irretrievable (i.e., the rock can always be picked up and moved). Would need to complete scoping meetings first.
Petersen requested a detailed description and timeline of project. Derrick noted that the CAD drawings were taking a little longer than expected, but they were putting the final details on them that evening. Cousins said they would work to provide this detailed description but the time line drop dead date was August 1 – being able to barge the rock to the project site was important for the project to go forward. Peterson reiterated that they would be unable to meet August 1. Bettin again suggests delaying the project a year, stating that he could negotiate the lake to be held down the following year, as he was part of negotiating the Letter Agreement. Cousins said that she would be elevating this to her superiors within the agency because she was unable to make that decision.
Later during the afternoon field trip it was determined that if the BLM NEPA process could be adopted by BPA, and if no significant issues were identified during scoping, then the BLM process can be streamlined and could actually have a final decision by July. BLM and BPA are working on a Letter of Agreement and how they will move forward.