Jennifer Siu, Life Scientist, Wetlands Section, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9, has sent the following comment to Sahrye Cohen, Permit Manager, at the Army Corps of Engineers, regarding Reneson Hotel's application for a permit to fill in the Edgewater pond at the Corte Madera Inn.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed Corte Madera In Rebuild (PN 2000-255330N) in Marin County, CA. In addition to the PN we have reviewed the applicants’ Alternatives Analysis (AA) from the CEQA Revised Environmental Impact Report (REIR). EPA has the following comments and suggestions on the project pursuant to the Federal Guidelines promulgated at 40 CFR 230 under Section 404(b)(1) of the Clean Water Act.
Reneson Hotels, Inc. (applicant) proposes to demolish an existing hotel and adjacent restaurant to construct a new hotel facility on the site. The applicant proposes to impact a 0.64-ac brackish pond by completely filling the feature. As mitigation for fill of the wetland, the applicant proposes to purchase 1.20-ac non-tidal wetland credits at the Burdell Mitigation Bank. Although the applicant has submitted a 404(b)(1) Alternatives Analysis for eight off-site alternatives, no on-site alternatives were included.
At this point in time, the proposed project does not comply with EPA’s 404(b)(1) Guidelines. First, the project purpose as stated is too narrow in scope and intent per the Guidelines. The basic and overall project purpose is to provide commercial hotel rooms in southern Marin County, CA. The intent, as stated in the PN, to ‘build additional commercial hotel rooms’ unduly limits the scope of analysis. We highly recommend the Corps ensures the applicant’s Project Description is consistent with the Guidelines. Second, there are significant flaws in the 404(b)(1) AA submitted to the Corps, such that the Corps ability to accurately determine the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA) is impaired. We find it curious that the applicant would submit an onsite alternative (Alternative 4) during the CEQA process that would completely avoid direct impacts to the pond; yet, the 404 AA does not include this onsite avoidance alternative. This inconsistency indicates that the applicant has deprived the Corps of full available information and that there are indeed practicable alternatives to the proposed discharge that would accomplish the basic project purpose and have a less adverse effect on the aquatic environment. The applicant must submit appropriate avoidance or minimization alternatives before proceeding with the 404 permit process.
Lastly, while this wetland may be small in acreage, it is connected to the tidal system and provides wildlife habitat values and water quality functions within the watershed. EPA highly encourages the applicant to consider sea level rise considerations and potential watershed benefits of this wetland. We do not support the proposed mitigation plan of purchasing credits at the Burdell Mitigation Bank, as it is a seasonal freshwater wetland complex and would not be appropriate compensation for this tidally-influenced wetland.
Thank you for considering our concerns and recommendations. Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss our comments.