[Federal Register: April 9, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 69)]
[Page 18926-18927]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of a Final Environmental Impact Statement/ 
Environmental Impact Report on the South Bay Salt Ponds Initial 
Stewardship Plan, San Francisco Bay, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: This notice advises the public of the availability of the 
Final Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report for 
the South Bay Salt Ponds Initial Stewardship Plan. The Record of 
Decision will be signed no sooner than 30 days from this notice.
    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of 
Fish and Game plan to manage 15,100 acres of former commercial salt 
ponds in south San Francisco Bay using an interim strategy while a 
long-term restoration plan is developed and implemented. This interim 
strategy, the Initial Stewardship Plan (ISP), would use existing and 
new water control structures, pursuant to permits, to release any 
remaining saline pond waters to the Bay and to prevent further salt 
concentration by circulating waters through the ponds. The ponds are 
located at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge 
and at the Eden Landing State Ecological Reserve.

DATES: A Record of Decision will occur no sooner than 30 days from the 
date of publication of this notice. In accordance with NEPA, we have 
filed the EIS with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Each 
Friday, EPA publishes a Federal Register notice that lists EISs 
received during the previous week. The EPA notice officially starts the 
30-day review period for these documents. It is the goal of the Fish 
and Wildlife Service to have the FWS notice published on the same date 
as the EPA notice. However, if that does not occur, the date of the EPA 
notice will determine the closing date for the Final EIS.

ADDRESSES: The Final Environmental Impact Statement/ Environmental 
Impact Report can be viewed at http://www.southbayrestoration.org/documents.
 Copies of the Final Environmental Impact Statement/

Environmental Impact Report are also available for review at the 
following government offices and libraries:
    Government Offices--Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR, 1 
Marshlands Road, Fremont, CA 94536, (510) 792-0222; Don Edwards San 
Francisco Bay NWR, Environmental Education Center, 1751 Grand 
Boulevard, Alviso, CA 95002, (408) 262-5513; California Department of 
Fish and Game, 7329 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558, (707) 944-5500.
    Libraries--Alviso Library, 5050 N. 1st St., Alviso, CA 95002-1060, 
(408) 263-3626; Hayward Public Library, 835 C St., Hayward, CA 94541-
5120, (510) 293-8685; Menlo Park Public Library, 800 Alma Street, Menlo 
Park, CA 94025-3460, (415) 858-3460; Mountain View Public Library, 585 
Franklin St., Mountain View, CA 94041-1998; (650) 903-6335; Union City 
Library, 34007 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City, CA 94587-4498; (510) 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Margaret Kolar, Refuge Complex 
Manager, San Francisco Bay NWR Complex, P.O. Box 524, Newark, 
California 94560, (510) 792-0222.



    Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) prepared a Final Environmental 
Impact Statement evaluating the impacts of managing the South Bay Salt 
Ponds in San Francisco Bay under an Initial Stewardship Plan.
    On March 6, 2003, the State of California and the United States of 
America acquired 15,100 acres of commercial salt ponds in South San 
Francisco Bay from Cargill, Inc. The purpose of the acquisition was to 
protect, restore and enhance the property for fish and wildlife, as 
well as to provide opportunities for wildlife-oriented recreation and 
education. The Final Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental 
Impact Report (Final EIS/EIR) on the South Bay Salt Ponds Initial 
Stewardship Plan addresses the interim management of these ponds prior 
to their long-term restoration.
    Under commercial salt production, Cargill managed the South Bay 
salt ponds as shallow water ponds with various salinity levels. The 
salinity levels varied both geographically, based on the location of 
the pond within the system, and temporally, based on seasonal and 
climatic conditions. Although these ponds were managed for salt 
production, they provided habitat for many water bird species including 
waterfowl and shorebirds.
    The restoration of the salt ponds is taking place in three 
independent stages. First, Cargill is reducing the salinity levels in 
the ponds by moving the saltiest brines to its plant site in Newark, 
California. After the salinities are reduced to levels that are allowed 
to be discharged to the Bay, Cargill will no longer manage the ponds 
for salt production. Management of the Baumberg ponds will be turned 
over to the California Department of Fish and Game and management of 
the Alviso ponds and West Bay ponds will be turned over to the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service.
    In the second stage of restoration, the ponds will be managed by 
the agencies in a manner that provides habitat values while the long-
term restoration plan is being developed and implemented. In this 
Initial Stewardship stage, Bay waters will be circulated through the 
ponds following installation of water control structures and the 
existing levees will be maintained for minimum flood protection. The 
Final EIS/EIR covers only this second stage of restoration, i.e., 
Initial Stewardship.
    The third stage of restoration is the actual long-term restoration 
of the salt ponds to a mix of tidal marshes, managed ponds and other 
habitats. The planning process for this long-term restoration has just 
begun and will include a substantial amount of data collection, 
studies, modeling efforts, and public involvement. The long-term 
planning process will include development of a separate EIS/EIR.
    Implementation of the long-term restoration plan is expected to be 
conducted in phases beginning in 5 years, but with some phases 
extending beyond 20 years. Therefore, some ponds may be managed under 
the Initial

[[Page 18927]]

Stewardship Plan for as little as 5 years, while others may require 
such management for over 20 years.
    On March 20, 2003, the Service published a Notice of Intent to 
prepare an EIS in the Federal Register (68 FR 13721). The purpose was 
to maintain and enhance, to the extent possible, the biological and 
physical conditions within the salt ponds for the period after 
commercial salt production ceased until long-term restoration was 
implemented. Scoping activities in preparation for the draft EIS/EIR 
included a public meeting on March 23, 2003 and a meeting with a group 
of technical experts on April 17, 2003.
    On January 23, 3004, the Service published a Notice of Availability 
of the Draft EIS/EIR in the Federal Register. A public meeting to 
accept comments on the draft document was held on February 4, 2004 in 
Fremont, California. In the Draft EIS/EIR, we proposed to circulate Bay 
waters through reconfigured pond systems and release pond contents to 
the Bay. This would require installation, replacement or removal of 55 
water control structures, breaches or levee fills. We also proposed to 
manage a limited number of ponds in different manners: as seasonal 
ponds; as higher salinity ponds; as muted or full tidal ponds; or at 
different water levels in winter or summer. Project impacts were 
described in the Draft EIR/EIS.

Development of the Final EIS

    The Draft EIS/EIR was jointly developed with the California 
Department of Fish and Game. Because of differences in notice and 
comment periods, the Final EIR under the California Environmental 
Quality Act has already been prepared and issued under a separate 
cover. However, all comments received by either the Service or the 
Department of Fish and Game during either the EIR or EIS comment 
periods, are included and considered in the Final EIS/EIR. A total of 
21 comment letters were received from 17 different organizations or 
individuals. The Final EIS/EIR incorporates all changes or additions to 
the draft into one complete document.
    The analysis provided in the Final EIS/EIR is intended to 
accomplish the following: inform the public of the proposed action; 
address public comments received on the Draft EIS/EIR; disclose the 
direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental effects of the proposed 
actions; and indicate any irreversible commitment of resources that 
would result from implementation of the proposed action.

Alternatives Analyzed

    The Final EIS/EIR considers four alternatives for Initial 
Stewardship: a No Action Alternative, a Seasonal Pond Alternative, and 
two Pond Management alternatives which vary based on the dates for 
initial release of saline pond waters.
    Under the No Action alternative, there would be no flow circulation 
through the pond systems. Remaining brines would dry through the 
evaporation process and the ponds would then fill seasonally with 
rainwater in winter. No new public access would be available. No action 
would be conducted by the agencies, including no levee maintenance, and 
some levees would likely fail during this period, which could impact 
water quality in the Bay, flood protection for adjacent homes and 
businesses, and existing public access on the levees. The existing open 
water ponds in South San Francisco Bay would be dry during most of the 
year which would reduce their value for wildlife.
    In Alternative 1, the Seasonal Pond Alternative, there would be no 
flow circulation through the pond systems. Remaining brines would dry 
through the evaporation process and the ponds would then fill 
seasonally with rainwater in winter. No new public access would be 
available. The only action taken by the agencies would be to maintain 
the levees at their current standard of maintenance to prevent release 
of existing brines, to assure continued public access, and to maintain 
a minimum level of flood control. The existing open water ponds in 
South San Francisco Bay would be dry during most of the year which 
would reduce their value for wildlife.
    Under the two pond management alternatives, bay waters would be 
circulated through the ponds, the pond levees would continue to be 
maintained at the current level, existing public access would continue 
and the ponds previously kept closed by Cargill would be open to 
limited public access. The majority of the existing open water ponds 
would remain in open water habitat throughout the year thereby 
maintaining important wildlife habitat values. The two action 
alternatives differ in the timing of the initial release of the 
existing low to mid salinity brines in the ponds.
    In Alternative 2, the Simultaneous March/April Initial Release 
alternative, the contents of most of the Alviso and Baumberg Ponds 
would be released simultaneously in March and April. The ponds would be 
managed as a mix of continuous circulation ponds, seasonal ponds and 
batch ponds. Higher salinity ponds in Alviso and in the West Bay would 
be discharged in March and April in later years when salinities in the 
ponds have been reduced to required levels. The Island Ponds (A-19, 20, 
and 21) would be breached and open to tidal waters. This alternative 
would delay implementation of Initial Stewardship for over a year and 
could impact the ability of the agencies to maintain low salinities 
needed to meet permit discharge requirements.
    In Alternative 3, the Phased Release Alternative, many lower 
salinity ponds in Alviso and Baumberg would be discharged in July, and 
medium salinity ponds would be discharged the following March and 
April. The higher salinity ponds would be discharged in later years and 
the Island Ponds would be breached as in Alternative 2. The ponds would 
be managed as in the Simultaneous March/April Release Alternative 
during the continuous circulation period. Alternative 3, the Phased 
Release Alternative, is the preferred alternative in the Final EIS/EIR.
    This notice is provided pursuant to regulations for implementing 
the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (40 CFR 1506.6).

    Dated: March 30, 2004.
David G. Paullin,
Acting Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office.
[FR Doc. 04-7692 Filed 4-8-04; 8:45 am]