Mirasol Center 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: Mirasol Center Permit Veto

 

Dear Mr. Palmer:

 

We are writing to urge you to veto Permit Application Number 200001926 (Mirasol) pursuant to Section 404(c) of the federal Clean Water Act because the proposed project, located in the drainage of the Cocohatchee Canal to the Cocohatchee River and to coastal waters, will have an unacceptable adverse effect on shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas) and wildlife, or recreational areas.  As you are aware, the applicant proposes to impact over 739 acres of wetlands through excavation and discharge of fill material as part of construction of an upscale residential and golf course 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 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 a golf course and residential development on the same site. 

 

2. The proposed storm water discharge associated with this project may contribute additional contaminants to impaired receiving waters, and thus may affect benthic and pelagic organisms in the receiving water bodies.  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 739 acres of wetlands, including 150 acres of cypress wetlands.  The loss of cypress and other wetlands in this area has been directly correlated with declining water quality in the Cochatchee Basin.  Therefore, pollutant discharges from this project will contribute to the significant degradation of waters of the U.S., including the Cocohatchee Canal.  The wetlands at this site 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 impacts to over 739 acres of wetlands.  The preservation and enhancement of 788 acres of existing wetlands, along with funding for preservation of 205 acres of unknown wetlands cannot replace the important functions lost by destruction of 739 acres of wetlands within this rapidly developing area of Collier County. 

 

5.  The proposed “regional flood relief flow-way” will degrade on-site wetland functions.  The primary purpose of the flow-way is flood relief.  We are particularly concerned that this flow-way is being proposed as compensatory mitigation to offset wetland losses.  The rationale for constructing the flow-way seems to be that since continuing development is forcing more water through smaller natural areas within the basin, and the remaining wetlands can no longer restore the increased runoff, the remaining wetlands should be replaced by a man-made structure.  Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines do not support this rationale for destroying wetlands.  Furthermore, the proposed flow-way would contribute increased pollutant discharges to the Cocohatchee Canal.

 

6. 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. 

 

The proposed project would 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 the Cocohatchee Basin, and thus would affect benthic and pelagic organisms in the receiving water bodies.  The resulting increase in nutrient discharges 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 739 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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