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Elderberry mitigation site nearly at capacity
Five shrubs within Jaye Street bridge project
Before the city widens the Jaye Street bridge over the Tule River, it needs to compensate for the loss of five elderberry shrubs; home to the threatened Valley elderberry longhorn beetle.
In the past, the city has simply planted more shrubs at its elderberry mitigation site — a safe haven for the insect’s habitat located off of Highway 190. This time around, the site is nearing capacity and cannot accommodate the mitigation requirements of the project.
Tonight, the Porterville City Council will consider authorizing staff with the city’s community development department to finalize an agreement for the purchase of credits in a conservation bank in the Sacramento area, owned and operated by Rocklin-based Wildlands, Inc.
According to report prepared by city staff, five elderberry shrubs with one or more stems greater than one inch in diameter are located within the project footprint and would need to be removed. Community Development Director Brad Dunlap said the number of stems translates into credits, and right now the city is looking at purchasing 42 credits at $4,000 apiece for a total of $168,000. An additional $10,750 would cover the cost to transplant the shrubs to the mitigation bank.
Dunlap said that each credit consist of 1,800 square feet, which equates to 1.75 acres of mitigation.
“We don’t have enough room in our mitigation site to accommodate that many [Valley elderberry longhorn beetle] units. So we need to buy credits from someone who developed and got approval for a mitigation site and there’s a company we’ve worked with in the past, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said you can buy credits off them to offset the loss,” Dunlap said.
According to Dunlap, when the city constructed its roughly 7-acre mitigation site in compliance with USFWS, there weren’t any other existing mitigation banks that served the area.
While the city could expand its existing mitigation site, it would require several studies and a significant amount of time working with the USFWS, a process that would “absolutely slow the projects down by a factor of years,” Dunlap said.
While the shrub has delayed several of the city’s construction projects in the past, such as the construction of the Heritage Center and Santa Fe Elementary School on Orange Avenue, Dunlap said that is not the case this time.
“It’s not slowing it down. It’s adding costs,” he said. “We have to go through the environmental process anyway, which includes looking at all the biological aspects of an area where a project is. In this case, we knew there were elderberry bushes. It’s not dramatically slowing the project. It may add a few weeks or a month but, overall, it’s wrapped into a bigger review.”
According to Dunlap, funding for the purchase of the conservation credits is through certificates of participation totaling $20,000,000 approved by the city council in the late 1990s to fund both the Jaye and Plano Tule River Widening projects as part of a larger series of traffic enhancements.
He said to date the city has spent in the magnitude of $500,000 on mitigation measures for the tiny beetle, and this would add $179,000 to that number.
“I’m not diminishing what we’re having to pay; that’s a lot of money, but there’s other governmental agencies and utilities that have been in a situation that have had to pay significantly more because they’ve got a lot of projects or larger service areas,” he said.
The USFWS announced in August of 2011 that it was undertaking a year-long review to determine whether or not to propose the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle for removal from the threatened and endangered species list.
Dunlap said a comment period on the proposed delisting just came to a close on Feb. 22 and this is the furthest they have gone in the delisting process.
“For about a decade they’ve been talking about delisting and now they’re finally at this point. My biggest concern if they do decide to delist it there may be interested individuals that will sue the Fish and Wildlife Service, but I hope they make the right decision,” he said.
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, ext. 1047. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseMadrid_.