Federal agencies: Permit “not likely to adversely affect” endangered species

A federal judge was told last week the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concur that a permit needed for the Villages at Vigneto project “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” three species or their critical habitat.

In a Nov. 30 filing, the U.S. Department of Justice informed U.S. Magistrate Judge Lynnette Kimmins that FWS concurred with the Corps’ previous determination about the impact on the northern Mexican gartersnake, the southwestern willow flycatcher, and the western yellow-billed cuckoo of a Clean Water Act section 404 permit held by developer El Dorado Benson.

The Corps has been reevaluating the 404 permit — initially issued in 2006 — since 2015 due to “changed circumstances.” The permit, which transferred to El Dorado when it bought the property in 2014, was suspended in July 2016.

The reevaluation included consultation between the two federal agencies about local species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In the end, FWS agreed with the Corps’ findings.

“The Service’s Oct.  26, 2017 letter of concurrence concluded the agencies’ Section 7 consultation under the ESA,” DOJ trial attorney Rickey D. Turner reported to Kimmins.

The judge is handling a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity against the Corps in May 2016 to force the consultation. That case has been stayed — placed on hold — until the Corps reinstates, modifies, or revokes the 404 permit.

However, Turner noted the permit “remains suspended” until reviews under the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Water Act are completed.

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