Publication of the Notice of Availability of a Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report for the East Contra Costa Habitat Conservation Plan and Natural Community Conservation Plan triggers a 30-day waiting period, during which the public may submit comments. Soon after the April 9 waiting period closes, the Service will make a decision on the request for a permit.
Years in the making, the plan covers 174,018 acres, essentially all of the county east of Mt. Diablo, except for the city of Antioch and a small Delta area at the eastern edge of the county.
When the service issues its permit, a comprehensive plan will be put in place to forever protect about 30,000 acres of important habitat where 28 rare plant and animal species live, including eight that are formally protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. In exchange, the plan will enable development to occur on up to 13,000 acres, with development fees paying a large share of the cost for buying and permanently protecting the habitat.
"The East Contra Costa Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is an excellent plan to protect imperiled species and an outstanding example of cooperation between all interests to reach agreement," according to Susan Moore, field supervisor in the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife office. "The HCP approach to complying with the ESA is an excellent way to provide certainty and predictability for all involved."
The plan will protect complete habitats, rather than small, disconnected fragments. Once purchased, the habitat will be permanently preserved and managed. The plan also will simplify the environmental compliance process for business, transferring permit issuance responsibility from the federal agency to local government.
Partnering in development of the plan were Contra Costa County; Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District; the cities of Brentwood, Clayton, Oakley and Pittsburg; the East Bay Regional Park District; Contra Costa Water District; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game; and numerous business and environmental interests. The plan will provide equivalent protection under state environmental law.
Comments may be submitted by April 9 to: Lori Rinek, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, SFWO, 2800 Cottage Way, Room W-2605, Sacramento, CA 95825; or to: John Kopchik, Contra Costa County Community Development Department, 651 Pine St., Fourth Floor Northwest, Martinez, CA 94553. Further information can be found in the March 9, 2007 Federal Register notice at www.a257.g.akamaitech.net. The plan can be found at www.cocohcp.org.