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Posted 11/20/2013

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PUBLIC NOTICE: Draft Environmental Assessment

Downstream Fish Enhancement for Juvenile Salmonids at Hills Creek, Fall Creek and Cougar dams; Lane Co., Ore.

                                                                            Public Notice: CENWP-PM-E-14-01
Issue Date:  November 19, 2013
Expiration Date:  December 3, 2013

Interested parties are hereby notified that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District has conducted a draft environmental assessment for the Downstream Fish Enhancement for Juvenile Salmonids at Hills Creek, Fall Creek and Cougar dams. 

The draft EA examines existing conditions at Hills Creek, Fall Creek and Cougar Dams and their corresponding reservoirs and proposes alternatives for enhancing downstream migration of juvenile salmonids through the outlets in the existing dams. The Draft EA discloses environmental impacts and provides a comprehensive analysis for proposed actions.  

Location: Fall Creek Dam is located at river mile 7.2 of Fall Creek, which is a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River and is about 20 miles southeast of Eugene, Ore. Hills Creek Dam can be found at river mile 47.8 of the Middle Fork Willamette River, four miles southwest of Oakridge, Ore. Cougar Dam is situated at river mile 4.4 of the South Fork McKenzie River, about 42 miles east of Eugene, OR. All dams are located in Lane Co., Ore.

Proposed action: Two alternatives are being considered for the proposed action. One actionable alternative for prospective work has been considered based on biological benefit, environmental impact, and operation. The other alternative is the No Action alternative.

Alternative 1. Preferred Alternative: The preferred alternative consists of similar actions at three separate dams/reservoirs. Each of the three reservoirs is drawndown in late fall/early winter of each year to prepare for flood risk protection. The preferred alternative will draw these reservoirs down deeper than normal for to bring the surface water elevation closer to a given outlet in the dam to facilitate fish locating these outlets and minimize impacts to the fish while moving through the dam. The preferred alternative is proposed to occur over a five year period for each dam.

Alternative 2. No-Action Alternative: The No Action Alternative would be to maintain the status quo in regards to reservoir operations and fish passage at Fall Creek, Hills Creek and Cougar dams. For the No Action Alternative, the Corps would drawdown each of the three reservoirs in the late fall/early winter of each year to prepare for flood risk protection without allowing an additional drop in the elevation of the surface water. Although the No Action Alternative does not meet the purpose and need for action, it is being considered in order to discern the relative merits and disadvantages of the action alternative when compared to taking no action.

Final selection of the preferred alternative will occur during the NEPA process.

Purpose: The purpose of the proposed action is to drawdown three reservoirs below the usual decreased winter-time elevations to study impacts to downstream migrating fish and investigate the feasibility of utilizing existing features of these dams on an annual or routine basis to facilitate downstream volitional migration of juvenile Chinook salmon and trout and decrease fish injury and mortality.

Need: The need for the proposed action is to facilitate downstream passage of ESA-listed fish species. Several species of fish that are native to the Willamette Basin are considered at a high risk of extinction as evidenced by their listing under ESA. Anthropomorphic changes over the last century have led to a decline in fish population, habitat and water quality within the Willamette system. Most dams have only a few outlets for downstream fish passage. Many of these outlets require juvenile fish to dive deeper into the reservoir than their nature behavior to find an outlet. Further, two of the dams (Hills Creek and Cougar) are equipped with powerhouses. Fish passage through the Francis turbine units at these powerhouses is known to cause injury and mortality. The Corps recognizes these problems and has coordinated with fisheries biologists from National Marine Fisheries Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to identify the proposed action as a potential solution.

Environmental Documents: In accord with the Council on Environmental Quality National Environmental Policy Act regulations [Federal Register, 40 C.F.R. 1508.9(a)], an EA is prepared by a federal agency when a proposed action is not covered by a categorical exclusion or otherwise exempt from NEPA. Federal agencies use the EA to determine whether the proposed action has the potential to cause significant environmental effects. The purposes of the EA are to accomplish the following:

1. Provide evidence and analysis sufficient to determine whether an Environmental Impact Statement is required.
2. Aid a federal agency’s compliance with NEPA when no EIS is necessary.
3. Facilitate preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement when one is necessary.

The Draft EA is available for public review and comment on the Corps’ website at the following website:  http://www.nwp.usace.army.mil/Media/Announcements.aspx

Upon completion of the Draft EA, all public comments will be addressed and a determination of significance will be made on the preferred alternative. Either a final Finding of No Significant Impact will be made, concluding the NEPA process, or a decision will be made to prepare an EIS.  In order to prepare an EIS, it must be determined that the proposed action will have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment. 

State Water Quality Certification: State Water Quality Certification from Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, pursuant to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, is required. The Corps has determined that the components of this project meet criteria under Nationwide Permit #4 (Fish and Wildlife Harvesting, Enhancement, and Attraction Devices and Activities). The Corps will comply with the General and Regional Conditions of NWP #4 and the pre-certified Oregon State Department of Environmental Quality’s 401 Water Quality Certification. 

The NWP #4 also has an associated § 404 (b) (1) Evaluation Decision Document with an impact analysis specified in Subparts C through F of the § 404 (b) (1) Guidelines (40 CFR Part 230), which the Corps has incorporated by reference.

Cultural Resources: The Corps is coordinating with Oregon State Historical Preservation Office and interested Native American tribes. The Corps is conducting a condition assessment of known cultural resources within the exposed drawdown zone of Fall Creek.  This assessment will inform the Corps of its effects determination and will seek concurrence from SHPO. 

Endangered Species Act: The project will be eligible for ESA Section 7 coverage to address potential effects to listed species under the take statement of the Biological Opinions issued concurrently by the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its jurisdictional species regarding the continued operation and maintenance of the Willamette Valley Project (July 2008).

Additional Information and Comments: Questions regarding the enclosed environmental documents or submittal of public comments on this draft EA and draft FONSI should be directed to: Tina Teed, Environmental Resources Branch, telephone 503-808-4770; via e-mail: Tina.J.Teed@usace.army.mil or at the address below. 

District Engineer
U.S. Army Corps of Engineer District, Portland
Attn:  CENWP-PM-E / Tina Teed
P.O. Box 2946
Portland, OR  97208-2946

To become part of the record and to be considered in the decision, comments on this notice must be sent by December 3, 2013. In your response, please refer to the above public notice number, title and date.  Should no response be received postmarked by the above closing date, a “no comment” response will be assumed.