Highlands Property Permit Veto Letter

                                                                        

 

Mr. James Palmer

Regional Administrator

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center

61 Forsyth St., SW

Atlanta GA  30303-3104

 

                                                                                                            Date__, 2003

 

RE: Highlands Property Permit Veto

 

Dear Mr. Palmer:

 

We are writing to urge you to veto Permit Application Number 200107045 (Highlands Properties of Lee and Collier) pursuant to Section 404(c) of the federal Clean Water Act because the proposed project will have an unacceptable adverse effect on shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas) and wildlife areas.  As you are aware, the applicant proposes to impact over 32 acres of wetlands through excavation and discharge of fill material as part of construction of a mixed-use commercial and residential development. 

 

We believe that the Corps must deny this project because it does not comply with the Section 404(b)(1) guidelines.  However, we also believe that the project would result in unacceptable adverse effects to shellfish beds, fishery areas and wildlife areas and that the EPA should commence a veto pursuant to Section 404(c).  Our specific concerns are set forth below: 

 

The proposed project does not comply with the Section 404(b)(1) guidelines:

 

1. A practicable alternative to the proposed project is available.  Because this is a non-water-dependent project, the Guidelines require the presumption that alternatives to impacting wetlands are available.  The applicant has not performed an adequate analysis of the alternatives to impacting wetlands.  In order to comply with these guidelines, the applicant must pursue practicable alternatives to combining commercial and residential development on the same site. 

 

2. The proposed storm water discharge associated with this project may contribute additional contaminants to Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.  The resulting increase in nutrient discharges may redirect, delay, or stop the reproductive and feeding movements of some species of fish and crustaceans.  Furthermore, we are concerned that waste materials from upstream land uses may become more damaging to the environment as a result of cumulative effects with this project.

 

3. This project will impact over 32 acres of high-quality wetlands within one of the most rapidly urbanizing watersheds of the United States. This watershed that has been identified as having declining water quality due to Section 404 permits by the Environmental Impact Statement on Improving the Regulatory Process in Southwest Florida, Lee and Collier Counties.  The wetlands at this site are primarily cypress and cypress pine wetlands, which provide important biological and hydrological functions that include filtering and cleaning surface water runoff, storing flood waters during the rainy season, providing refuges for wildlife during the dry season and harboring emerging fish and macro-invertebrate populations.  Additionally, these wetlands are suitable habitat for many federally listed species including the wood stork, Florida panther, red cockaded woodpecker, and eastern indigo snake. 

 

4. The applicant’s proposed mitigation is insufficient to compensate for the loss of over 32 acres of wetlands.  The on-site preservation and enhancement of 14.74 acres of wetlands and 1.17 acres of uplands does not adequately replace the important functions lost by destruction of 32 acres of cypress wetlands. 

 

5. Due to the impaired condition of receiving waters in this watershed and the significant increase in pollutant loading associated with the proposed land use changes, this project will cause or contribute to the significant degradation of waters of the U.S.

 

We believe that less environmentally damaging alternatives to the proposed project are available.  We also believe that the project would likely violate applicable State water quality standards, and would cause or contribute to significant degradation of waters of the U.S.  Finally, the proposed mitigation is inadequate to compensate for the lost functions and values of the wetlands filled and excavated.  For these reasons, we believe that the Corps must deny the Section 404 permit.

 

In addition, the proposed project would also result in unacceptable adverse impacts to fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas) and wildlife:

 

a)      As stated above, the proposed storm water discharge associated with this project would contribute additional contaminants to Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which would likely redirect, delay, or stop the reproductive and feeding movements of some species of fish and crustaceans.  The wetlands at this site also harbor emerging fish and macro-invertebrate populations necessary to the survival of these fish populations.  Therefore, the project would result in an unacceptable adverse impact to fishery areas.

 

b)      This project will impact 32 acres of wetlands that provide suitable habitat for many federally listed species including the wood stork, Florida panther, red cockaded woodpecker, and eastern indigo snake.  Therefore, the proposed project would result in unacceptable adverse effects to wildlife.

 

In conclusion, we believe that the proposed project violates the Section 404(b)(1) guidelines, and therefore a Section 404 permit cannot issue.  Moreover, we believe that the proposed project would result in unacceptable adverse effects to fishery areas and wildlife, and therefore EPA should prohibit the use of this area as a disposal site pursuant to Section 404(c). 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Jeff Ruch

Executive Director

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

 

 

Cc. Col. Robert Carpenter, Jacksonville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

John Meagher, Wetlands Division Director, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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