Wednesday, May 22, 2013

UPDATE: 22 May 2013 - Mitigation Issues

Mitigation Draft Stakeholder Message No. 1 of 2

Good Afternoon!

Where oh where is summer?  I sure hope it arrives soon, I'm certainly ready for it!  In the meantime, a lot has happened with the Kodiak Airport Runway Safety Area (RSA) projects since my last e-mail, and I want to update you on a few items.  

As I wrote about in a previous e-mail, we have been developing a mitigation plan for the unavoidable adverse impacts that could result from the project.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) have been working with agencies, tribes and other interested parties on how to best mitigate these impacts from the proposed projects.  

Mitigation is a fairly complex and lengthy topic. Instead of trying to cover all of the details in a single message, I think breaking the topic up into two parts works best.  This letter will focus on providing background on mitigation and how it applies to this project.  In my next letter, I will continue with specific information on how we developed the specific mitigation plan for this project.

What is mitigation?
One of the definitions I believe best describes the full range of options for mitigation is from the Council on Environmental Quality.  Generally, “mitigation” can be provided in many forms, including:
1.        Avoiding the impact altogether by not taking a certain action or parts of an action.
2.        Minimizing impacts by limiting the degree or magnitude of the action and its implementation.
3.        Rectifying the impact by repairing, rehabilitating or restoring the affected environment.
4.        Reducing or eliminating the impact over time by preservation and maintenance operations during the life of the action.
5.        Compensating for the impact by replacing or providing substitute resources or environments.

The descriptions above are “textbook” definitions. To connect these definitions to this project, here are some examples of mitigation measures that we have already incorporated into this project:

Avoiding: By selecting Runway 18/36 Alternative 7 as the preferred alternative for the RSA improvement, we avoided placement of any fill material near the mouth of the Buskin River.

Minimizing: Incorporating engineered materials arresting system (EMAS) for Runway 07/25 will allow us to reduce the amount of fill we would place in Womens Bay.

Rectifying the impact:  The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) identifies several Best Management Practices that will be used to help restore the affected environment as much as possible.  One example of this is re-vegetating affected areas with native seed after construction is completed.

Compensating: This type of mitigation is usually reserved for unavoidable environmental impacts that cannot be avoided or lessened through other means.  

What unavoidable impacts need to be mitigated?
Even with the measures included to avoid, minimize, and repair the environmental impacts, there are still impacts that would be unavoidable.  The EIS identifies some unavoidable environmental impacts, including:
1.        Fill into marine waters resulting in a loss of “waters of the U.S.” (i.e. waters under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers)
2.        Impacts to the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
3.        Impacts to Essential Fish Habitat, including salmonids, which are covered under the Magnusson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act
4.        Negative effects on subsistence users, including minority and low-income populations as well as Alaska Native traditional and customary subsistence practices.

How can these unavoidable impacts be mitigated?
A “compensatory mitigation plan” describes the measures that will be taken to counteract impacts. The RSA Projects’ compensatory mitigation plan is currently under development.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have jointly issued the Compensatory Mitigation Rule. This Rule provides guidance on developing mitigation for projects, like this one, that require placement of fill into Waters of the U.S. The RSA Projects’ compensatory mitigation plan must comply with these rules for the ACOE to issue a permit that would allow fill to be placed into Womens Bay.

What are the objectives of the compensatory mitigation plan?
Simply stated, the objectives of the mitigation plan are to reduce the total severity of the projects’ adverse impacts.  To achieve those objectives, the mitigation plan’s goals include:
·        Improving or replacing habitat functions and values related to anadromous fisheries, migratory birds, and marine resources and habitats.
·        Replacing lost or affected subsistence opportunities and resources by providing access to or preservation of areas with subsistence resource values that have reasonable access from the Kodiak area (The Kodiak area is defined as Kodiak Island and Afognak Island).
·        Complying with the Compensatory Mitigation Rule

What mitigation types are examined under the Compensatory Mitigation Rule?
The Compensatory Mitigation Rule organizes several types of preferred mitigation options into a hierarchy: To follow the Rule, a permittee (in this case ADOT&PF) must attempt to mitigate its project in the following order:

This first preference requires the use of mitigation banks.  A mitigation bank is a wetland, stream, or other aquatic resource area that has been restored, established, enhanced, or preserved for the purpose of providing compensation for unavoidable environmental impacts.  

This type of mitigation is a type of “third-party” mitigation, where the permittee (ADOT&PF) pays a third-party by buying “credits” which are calculated based on the amount and type of resources affected.  The third-party uses the funds from these credits (combined with credits from other compensatory mitigation) to enhance, restore, or preserve the same types of resources that were affected through the existing mitigation bank.  A mitigation bank needs to be federally approved, and there are no federally approved mitigation banks in the Kodiak area (Kodiak Island or Afognak Island).  

Since mitigation banks cannot be used, the second preference is in-lieu fee programs. In-lieu fee programs occur when a permittee (ADOT&PF) provides funds to a third-party sponsor (generally a public agency or a non-profit).  The third-party sponsor then uses these funds to purchase lands that help enhance, restore or preserve the types of resources affected by the project within a local area (in this case Kodiak Island or Afognak Island).  

If approved mitigation banks or in-lieu fee programs are not available, the rule allows permittee-responsible mitigation, which in this case would mean ADOT&PF would complete a project restoration, establishment, enhancement, or preservation project of an area, instead of providing funds to a third-party.  For permittee-responsible projects, the Rule prefers the mitigation project to be “on-site” and “in-kind,” meaning the project would need to be near the RSA projects and mitigate for the same impacts described in the EIS.  In this case, ADOT&PF would also need to maintain the site permanently.

What‘s next?
We’re continuing to work on the compensatory mitigation plan, which I will update you on in my next letter, likely at the end of June or early July.  As always, if you have any questions or comments on the mitigation process or the Final EIS, please don’t hesitate to contact me at or by phone at (907)271-2851.

Sincerely, Leslie

Leslie A. Grey
Environmental Protection Specialist
FAA - Alaskan Region, Airports Division