Conservation Alert, 2012 Mar | El Toro Transfer Comment Period
Public Notice or Legal Notice #: 3238186
Notice of Availability: Draft Environmental Assessment
Notice of Availability: Draft Environmental Assessment and Draft Finding of No Significant Impact, El Toro Custodianship Transfer Agency: Federal Bureau of Investigation Public Comment Period: February 21, 2012 – March 22, 2012 Summary: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has prepared and issued a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) and accompanying Draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the custodianship transfer of an approximately 900-acre parcel of land, referred to as “El Toro,” to the FBI from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The parcel is located in Orange County, California, and is situated between Irvine Boulevard and Route 241. No changes in operations will result from this transfer. Where Documents May Be Reviewed: The Draft EA and Draft FONSI can be reviewed at the following location: County of Orange, Irvine Heritage Park Library, 14361 Yale Ave, Irvine, CA 93604-1901. Comment Submittal: Written comments should be as specific as possible. Electronic comments are preferred and can be e-mailed to: . Hard copy comments can be mailed to: Mr. Lawrence Ridings, 935 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Room 10254, Washington, DC 20535. Comments should be submitted only once by one of these mechanisms. Electronic comments must be received by March 22, 2012, and hard copy comments must be postmarked by this date to ensure consideration in the Final EA. For Further Information Contact: Mr. Lawrence Ridings, Senior Advisor, Finance Division, by e-mail at or mail at the address above. Publish: Orange County Register February 21, 22, 23, 2012 R-262 94543399
Comments are due March 22, 2012.
TO COMMENT ON EL TORO CUSTODIANSHIP TRANSFER FROM FAA TO FBI
- Written comments should be as specific as possible.
- Electronic comments are preferred and can be e-mailed to: .
- Hard copy comments can be mailed to: Lawrence Ridings, 935 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Room 10254, Washington, DC 20535.
- Comments from any individual or group should be submitted only once by one of these mechanisms.
- Electronic comments must be RECEIVED BY MARCH 22, 2012, and hard copy comments must be postmarked by this date to ensure consideration in the Final EA.
- For Further Information Contact: Lawrence Ridings, Senior Advisor, Finance Division,
COMMENT POINTS (Pick a couple of the following points, feel free to mix & match, restate in your own words. Please do not include ALL this verbiage in one letter!):
ON THE FEDERAL COMMITMENT:
The EA has a major flaw: it does not mention that the Federal Government, as a public landowner, made a commitment upon signing the 1996 Coastal-Central NCCP/HCP Implementing Agreement. §5.2.1 of the NCCP/HCP IA states that the execution of the agreement by each public landowner “shall represent the owner’s formal commitment of the lands to the Reserve System … and agreement to manage the lands for the protection of the wildlife, plant and habitat values of the lands in accordance with the NCCP/HCP and this Agreement.” At a minimum, the Final EA (or better, an EIS) must disclose how the FBI will will cooperate with the Nature Reserve of Orange County to fulfill this commitment.
The El Toro site was a key component of Orange County’s 1996 Central-Coastal NCCP/HCP agreement. Indeed, it was the largest acreage of new conservation benefit of NCCP/HCP and the resultant NROC.
The subject property was reviewed and mapped into the NCCP/HCP reserve system in May 1996 because it was found to have high conservation value, see Figures 9 & 10 (PDF page 21-22 of the NCCP/HCP EIR/EIS County of Orange Central and Coastal Subregion Map Sections [Figures 1-76]). Its high conservation value was well-known before 1996, as evidenced by the site’s inclusion in the Preliminary Reserve Concept (Figure 11) and the Proposed Habitat Reserve System (Figure 12) of the EIR/EIS. And, as “El Toro Station,” the property was designated as Critical Habitat for the Coastal California Gnatcatcher (Federal Register, 12/11/2007)
The FBI must maintain the federal government’s 1996 promise to steward the land as permitted under the Natural Communities Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP). This agreement allows for restoration of habitat and for passive recreation on the site. It excludes development of new facilities, including those proposed by the FBI.
Expansion beyond existing (as of 2004) uses was prohibited in the transfer conditions and subsequent interagency agreements between the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Authority and the Fish and Wildlife Service. To complete that commitment, all promised conservation lands must become part of the Nature Reserve of Orange County, and no development done beyond the originally agreed-upon existing uses.
As proposed in the EA, this transfer of custodianship has the potential for significant environmental impacts that are not disclosed in the document. A full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should be prepared, to disclose these impacts and detail mitigations for them. In lieu of an EIS, a sufficient mitigation program could justify a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). This would take the form of an NCCP-consistent Resource Management Plan for a conservation area outside of an agreed-upon FBI use area, that also allows for wildlife movement through the parcel consistent with the long-planned wildlife corridor.
ON THE WILDLIFE CORRIDOR:
The “Coast to Cleveland Connection” must be maintained. Such a connection can allow for the subject property’s continued use by the FBI as permitted under the NCCP/HCP agreement.
A specific objectives of creation of the NCCP/HCP reserve was: “Provision for long-term protection of Coastal Sage Scrub habitat and target species on a sub-regional basis with a focus on source populations of target species, and maintaining and enhancing connectivity between habitat areas” (Section 1.3, page II-10 of the NCCP/HCP Parts I and II). The subject property has long been widely acknowledged to be critical to the connectivity between the Laguna Beach-area coastal wilderness and the Santa Ana Mountains and foothills. The subject property should be managed to maintain that connectivity, in alignment with the existing reserve system’s allowed uses.
The EA calls for “securing the perimeter” of the 200-acre FBI training area. If the “securing” is done according to the EA’s Figure 3-6, north-south wildlife movement through the site will be possible only along its easterly side, and will be funneled into a narrow passage at the southerly end. The EA does not include a map indicating how this restricted passage, at its southerly end, would connect to the already-agreed Great Park portion of the overall wildlife corridor. Thus it is not clear that the “secured perimeter” will not prevent wildlife passage–which would be contrary to a key purpose of the NCCP/HCP agreement.
The EA mentions a “possible” wildlife corridor only once. But the entire property is Segment 1 of the corridor under the 2007 Management Plan, which includes:
- Specific maps of resident and transient sensitive species.
- Fencing that must come down to facilitate wildlife movement.
- That any fencing must be wildlife-friendly 3-strand barbed wire.
All the site outside the fence around the FBI’s use area should be formally designated as wildlife corridor, barriers to wildlife passage from abutting lands should be ameliorated, and the site should be restored/enhanced/maintained to abet wildlife habitat & passage
The EA does not mention that that entire original 1033 acres of the El Toro property was federally designated as critical habitat for the Coastal California Gnatcatcher (CAGN) and that prior to the 2007 fire the property supported the highest density of CAGN in the entire NCCP/HCP reserve area. It is probable that the property will support a similar density of CAGN again if post-fire recovery is allowed to proceed naturally and is not precluded by further development in the FBI’s use area.
ON PLANTS & HABITATS
The EA does not include topographic maps locating the site’s existing vernal pools, the courses of Borrego Wash, Agua Chinon, and any other jurisdictional waters in relation to the site’s inner and outer perimeter fences, the old dumpsites, and internal roads and structures, or how the proposed fencing aligns with the portions of the overall wildlife corridor that are north and south of the subject property.
The site’s existing vernal pools should be restored/enhanced/maintained.
An updated vegetation map and list, with CRPR/S/F status noted, should be provided. The site is known to host a population of Allen’s Daisy (Pentachaeta aurea ssp. allenii, CRPR 1B.1 and an Orange County endemic).
The site’s biodiversity and endangered and threatened species/habitats–rare low elevation coastal sage scrub, extraordinary concentrations of California gnatcatchers and coastal cactus wrens, and mosaic of grasslands and vernal pools–must be protected and enhanced.