The revisions to the County Flood Control District’s Final Environmental Impact Report (RFEIR) on July 24, 2017 are rather sketchy and narrow in their interpretation of Judge James Chalfant’s order. We recommend that you go through the often-repetitious 150 pages of the revisions and zero in on the issues that concern you the most. Here we offer some comments on key topics of concern regarding the revisions.
|Extension of Public Comment Period and Public Outreach Meetings||Request that the County conduct public outreach meetings to solicit comments on the RFEIR and extend the public comment period to allow the public additional time to review and comment upon the RFEIR. Forty five days during the dog days of summer just isn't adequate time for agency and public review.|
|Alternatives||During the EIR process many people have spoken of viable alternatives to the Big Dig, mostly centering around going slow, reducing the amount of sediment removed and the permanent destruction zone, and using a surgical approach to sediment removal and habitat protection and restoration. The City of Pasadena, which owns Hahamongna, has endorsed such a plan. Another key element is insisting that the County should reduce sediment buildup on an ongoing basis rather than draconian approaches like the Big Dig. While the revisions do not directly deal with these concerns, it is important for commenters to note that there are viable and less-destructive alternatives.|
|Justification for 1:1 Habitat Mitigation Ratio||130C-130D||Judge Chalfant ordered the County to provide documentation that their proposed 1:1 mitigation ratio would adequately protect sensitive habitat and species. Instead of providing expert testimony from biologists and restoration experts, however, the County lists a few projects, such as a Vulcan mining operation and an apartment complex in Riverside County, that have been allowed to proceed with 1:1 mitigation programs. None of these examples have been legally challenged or properly monitored to provide evidence of the suitability of a 1:1 program in a rare riparian zone. Most mitigation programs in sensitive riparian areas have had a 2-3:1 ratio, and some have gone as high as 5:1. The examples that the County uses indicate that the 1:1 mitigation goal is achievable rather than proving that it as a justifiable goal in the first place. This 1:1 standard can only be justified by the County’s underestimation of the habitat values in the Hahamongna basin and the Arroyo Seco.|
|Habitat Restoration Plan||Many references||The County promises to develop a Habitat Restoration Plan, but while they list numerous guidelines that they promise the plan will include, they do not put forth the actual plan nor define the performance standards they hope to achieve, even though the County has already prepared and submitted a Draft Habitat Restoration Plan to the United States Army Corps of Engineers. This plan should be made available to the public and reviewed as part of this RFEIR to allow the public to fully evaluate the potential effectiveness or deficiencies of the mitigation program.|
|Significance of Impact||130H||The RFEIR improperly concludes that the Project will have “less than significant impacts” on biological resources, stating that “[b]ased on the evidence cited above and the steps outlined in Mitigation Measure BIO-8 to ensure a successful replacement at a 1:1 ratio, neither a higher mitigation ratio nor other Mitigation Measures would be necessary to reduce impacts to below level of significance.” However, the County’s mitigation program of 1:1 fails to mitigate the Project’s impacts to biological resources to a level of “less than significant” given that the habitat mitigation is allowed to be within both on-site and off-site areas, simply destroying riparian habitat and replacing it in another location that may not even be in the same watershed as Hahamongna.|
|Quality of Habitat||130H, 130J||The RFEIR consistently underestimates the quality f habitat in the Hahamongna basin. The RFEIR utilizes a 2013 habitat assessment, rather than reviewing more recent conditions in which healthy habitat has flourished in the Basin. The County has conducted habitat surveys since 2013 as part of preparing a habitat mitigation plan for the United States Army Corps of Engineers. That more recent information should be included as part of the RFEIR. The County’s habitat assessment systemically underestimates the amount of habitat currently in the basin, overemphasizing the presence of invasive species, and underestimating the presence of certain types of riparian habitat by claiming that habitat has been buried under sediment even though it has re-established itself since 2013. The County, by characterizing these habitats as more degraded than they are, minimizes the destructive impacts of their excavation and mining program as well as reduces their obligation to mitigate those impacts.|
|Period of Monitoring||ES-15C, ES-15E, 130C, 131C||The County should provide a longer monitoring period for its habitat mitigation. The FEIR and revisions provide that monitoring will occur for only 5 years or until the performance standards, which are not defined, are met. This is a very short period of time given the time it would take for habitats equivalent to the ones they destroy to establish themselves.|
|Location of Mitigation||ES-15||If mitigation is to protect natural values, it should be as close to the site of destruction as possible. The County, however, only promises that mitigation will be “onsite, offsite with Arroyo Seco subwatershed and offsite within the greater Los Angeles River Watershed.”|
|Definition of Riparian Zone||130, 130H, 706||The RFEIR underestimates the amount of riparian habitat that would be affected by the Project. The Revised FEIR states that the Proposed project would remove 51.4 acres of Riparian Woodland and 11.1 acres of Mule Fat Thickets, However, Mule Fat Thickets is a type of riparian habitat.|
|Air Quality||ES-12||The County should utilize alternative fuel trucks to minimize NOx and Diesel Particulate Matter emissions. These RFEIR mandates that the County utilize Model Year 2010 diesel trucks. However, emissions from Model Year 2010 Trucks will still have significant air pollution impacts, given the sheer number of trucks (up to 425 per day), steep grade, traffic congestion, long idling times, and proximity to residential neighborhoods and schools. Furthermore, this standard does not apply to other mining and excavation equipment, which is also diesel-powered and likely to be even older equipment. As a responsible public agency, the County should use only clean air vehicles.|
We need to act NOW to save Hahamongna. There is a 45 day review period for the revised Final Environmental Impact Report that extends until September 18th. The fate of Hahamongna will be decided by the County Board of Supervisors, which must act to certify that the entire EIR is in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This is the time for those who care about Hahamongna to speak up, hold the Supervisors accountable, and ensure that the sediment removal program is reshaped along more sustainable and environmentally sensitive lines.
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