Date of this Version
This Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) analyzes the potential environmental consequences of implementing the Emergent Sandbar Habitat (ESH) program on the Upper Missouri River. The purpose of the ESH program is to support least tern and piping plover populations on the Missouri River by supplementing natural habitat through the mechanical creation and replacement of ESH. The PEIS allows the public, cooperating agencies (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Park Service (NPS)), and Corps decision makers to compare impacts among a range of alternatives. The PEIS is meant to inform the selection of a preferred alternative that allows for the support of tern and plover populations on the Missouri River through creation and replacement of sufficient habitat in a safe, efficient and cost-effective manner, that minimizes negative environmental consequences.
The ESH program is a part of the Corps’ Missouri River Recovery Program (MRRP). The PEIS is tiered from the Final EIS and Record of Decision for the Master Water Control Manual Review and Update (March 2004). The Corps has identified an Adaptive Management Implementation Process (AMIP) as the preferred alternative. The key concept to the AMIP is that rather than selecting a specific acreage alternative, actions would be progressively implemented until the desired biological response is attained and sustained. While the exact number of acres needed to be constructed and replaced is uncertain at this time, this document discloses the impacts associated with constructing and replacing up to the acreage of Alternative 3.5 (4,370 acres). As the level of habitats created reach lesser alternative acreages, an assessment of the biological response will be completed to determine if it indicates that adequate habitat is in place to support the species. If the desired tern and plover population and productivity levels are being met and sustained at lower acreage levels, these acreages would be maintained and biological metrics would continue to be monitored to ensure project success. The preferred AMIP alternative provides a flexible approach to meeting the biological metrics for the least tern and piping plover identified in the 2003 BiOp Amendment. The success of the preferred alternative in meeting the needs of the species will be evaluated annually and refined through monitoring, assessment and the use of predictive models through a formal Adaptive Management process. The Corps will be coordinating with the Cooperating Agencies (USFWS and NPS) on an ongoing basis to establish and refine the timeline to meet benchmark acres.
The alternatives considered represent a range of ESH acreage goals from Alternative 1 (11,886 acres) through Alternative 5 (1,315 acres). Two “no action” alternatives are considered: 1) the implementation of the ESH Program at current levels of construction, approximately 150 acres per year (Existing Program), and 2) the environmental impacts of not implementing any construction program for ESH (No Program). The “no action” alternatives are consistent with the two definitions provided by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) of “continuing with the present course of action” and “taking no action”, respectively [46 Fed. Reg. 18026 (March 23, 1981), as amended]. Neither of these levels of implementation meets the purpose and need for the project.
As part of consultation with USFWS under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Corps has made a commitment to work within its authorities to contribute to species recovery. Specifically addressed in this PEIS is the commitment to promote the recovery of the species in segments of the Missouri River identified in the 2000 BiOp, as amended (2003). However, “recovery” in the sense of de-listing the species from endangered or threatened status is outside of the scope of this document because the action area is just one portion of each of the birds’ ranges.
Only Alternative 1 would fully meet proposed acreage recommendations for habitat goals of RPA IV(b)3 (11,886 acres); however, based on more recent monitoring data, the five remaining alternatives could reasonably meet biological metrics for the least tern and piping plover. In addition, all of the action alternatives require the creation of habitat within the 39-mile and 59-mile Districts of the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR), potentially affecting the outstandingly remarkable values for which these Districts were originally designated for protection. The National Park Service (NPS) has expressed concerns that implementing the program within the MNRR may create unacceptably significant and permanent effects to the MNRR.
The displayed alternatives provide a broad range of alternatives to evaluate the environmental consequences of, and benefits from, different acreage goals juxtaposed with the potentially conflicting agency missions. The lesser acreage alternatives minimize or avoid environmental impacts associated with implementation of the ESH program. This approach, in addition to being consistent with the CEQ’s guidance on reasonable alternatives currently outside an agency’s jurisdiction to implement, also allows the program to be developed in an Adaptive Management context where the flexibility to consider new information is an essential component for program implementation.