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California Energy Commission Biological Issues Workshop for Metcalf Energy Center -- October 27, 1999

Reported and written by Scott Scholz

Morning session

The California Energy Commission held a public workshop to discuss biological issues for the Metcalf Energy Center project with Calpine, Bechtel and the public at the Coyote Grange Hall. The meeting was noticed to go from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Paul Richins, Energy Facility Siting Project Manager, chaired his first meeting as project manager for the MEC. He opened the meeting and had everyone in attendance introduce themselves. Linda Spiegal, CEC staff member, began the morning session topics of: Nitrogen Impacts on Tulare Hill and the management plan of the 126 acres that Calpine/Bechtel would control on Tulare Hill.

Nitrogen Impacts on Tulare Hill

Albert, representative for the plan put forward by Calpine, described how he did his nitrogen impact analysis on Tulare Hill. He used information from the National Deposition Network, however, the closest monitoring station is in Davis, CA. When he did his research, the most up to date information was from 1997, but now their database has 1998 data. He tried to determine how will nitrogen affect the plants and how will they respond. He stated that some nitrogen would be in an unusable form. The non-native grasses would be able to utilize the nitrogen more effectively than the native species thus overtaking the native species. He figured 5kg/hector of nitrogen deposition could overtake the native species.

Although he hasn't looked at current background concentrations, he said they could do more monitoring in the area to determine background concentrations. He assumed 50% deposition would be in the form of wet deposition. He stated that very little deposition would occur from the plant. They haven't done any soil sampling of Tulare Hill yet, but they have looked at other areas that are similar. Someone asked about toxic levels of other heavy metals specifically concentrations of magnesium. Albert said he concentrated his focus on nitrogen deposition. The Davis data shows total background deposition of nitrogen. He then used statistical extrapolation from two points to get a relatively close approximate. Sensing perhaps the audience not accepting data from Davis, Jeffrey Harris, attorney for Calpine, asked if this is a scientifically acceptable approach. Albert said yes. He added that we can't set up monitoring stations at every area. We have to rely on the data from different monitoring stations.

Stuart Weiss, Stanford PhD, had many comments concerning nitrogen deposition. He made a distinction between wet and dry deposition and believed the data used by Albert was underestimated. He believed about 10-15kg/hector/year with 80% in form of dry deposition on Tulare Hill. He said the Davis data is primarily wet deposition and is not appropriate for this area of California at all. He said the nitrogen deposition is high enough to transform Tulare Hill. He said there should be some form of direct measurement at the site since the entire Bay Area is funneling down to this project site. He said the wind shifts every day. He said one year of field data should be done if this project is to be constructed.

Dr. Weiss also said any improvements to regional air quality would be overshadowed by what is being loaded locally by the MEC project. He said the MEC would have an impact on the entire ridgeline of the area which will affect the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly. He said a more thorough job must be done to get a detailed study with site specific measurements. Paul Richins asked if Dr. Weiss could provide information to applicant and staff showing how he came up with the measurement from 10-15 kg/hector. Mr. Richins said he would docket it and serve it on all parties. Dr. Weiss proposed getting information prior to construction and then additional monitoring once constructed. He said you could gather information with bags of ion exchange resin and send them to a lab every month. Bob Williams, a local intervenor, also suggested that we have one year of air quality data as well prior to deciding on construction of the project.

Phil Mitchell, a local resident, said the 186 tons of nitrogen have been considered in this plan, but not the 200 tons of ammonia. Someone said that the new turbines/stacks release nitrogen dioxide much quicker almost right out of the stack. Someone asked if this is mitigatable through cattle grazing. Someone answered it is all we have except for fire. However, Dr. Weiss said just mitigating Tulare Hill would not work since this will affect the ridgeline as well. Tulare Hill is not where the Checkerspot Butterfly is going to flourish in the long run. Dr. Weiss said he has been interested in history of ecosystem of the area. Butterflies have been known to be here in the 30's and 50's. He actually started studying relative area in Kirby Canyon in 1984. Someone asked when he would consider this area became severely stressed. He answered relatively recently.

Ceceila Brown of US Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species Division wanted a breakdown of the data of both wet and dry nitrogen deposition so these questions could be answered. Albert responded that we did do both analyses just not with actual source data. Bob Williams asked Albert if he would not build until you have source data. Albert said he hasn't analyzed that yet. Albert agreed that it isn't the onetime deposition of 10-15kg/hector/year that causes the problem, but the ongoing deposition year after year. Someone asked how far is the local area being affected from. Dr. Weiss said perhaps as far as San Francisco.

Someone asked if this is a significant impact that can't be mitigated. Dr. Weiss said he would need to see more reliable data but he believed if it were mitigatable the mitigation plan would have to include more than Tulare Hill. He said Tulare Hill is worthy of protection and a management plan. However, if you don't protect the ridgelines, Tulare Hill becomes academic for the butterfly. Someone asked if the location of nitrogen deposition is important. Dr. Weiss responded that butterfly habitat tends to be on the ridgeline. Cattle grazing is not a perfect solution since it impacts other species (Dudlea for example).

Tulare Hill Management Plan

A Calpine representative introduced their Tulare Hill Management Plan. Tulare Hill has many landowners without fences. Calpine is not proposing to put fences up, but suggesting cattle grazing of the entire hill. Current grazer is using approximately 1 cow per 3 acres, but we are proposing 1 cow per 10 acres. Several trees (85) will be removed from site). Will need to keep cattle fenced out of tree planting areas. Would like to fence off PG&E property but don't have their permission yet. Goal is to keep habitat as is or make it better. Believe area is overgrazed at the moment. Cattle currently on hill all year, but are supplemented with feed during summer months when grasses are low. This is the same as in Kirby Canyon. We are following protocols/procedures outlined at Stanford University. California Fish & Game considers serpentine soils important, but they are not here today.

Stuart Weiss said we should get some baseline data on impacts of having 1 cow per 3 acres to determine if this is impacting the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly. Kirby Canyon does have much grass still there with the 1 to 3 acres ratio. Someone asked about compliance issues after siting conditions have been outlined. Sue Swackshammer from the League of Womans Voters asked if there is an alternative source of water for the cattle if you fence off the creek. Phil Mitchell said the ammonia emissions should be factored into the Management Plan prior to a decision to site.

Stuart Weiss said the impacts of nitrogen deposition are far more significant on ridgeline. It wouldn't matter what you did on Tulare Hill. Given the doubts of the deposition modeling and the fact that your modeling shows that the isopleths going up the Coyote Hills is going up, not down.

Jim Cosgrove asked why these proceedings are not recorded or transcribed. He also said there aren't timeframes on when these documents would be available for review. Bob Williams asked that acid rain affects on waterways be included in analysis.

CEC staff member Linda Spiegal suggested Calpine redo the modeling. She also wanted to see the management of impacts to the ridgeline. She understood the management plan isn't relevant if there isn't a management plan for the surrounding ridgelines. She said Dudlea was found on Hill but not on project site. No Metcalf Canyon Jewelflower was found. She wants the management plan to address flowers as well.

I asked what kind of consultation would Calpine be doing under the Endangered Species Act (Section 7 or Section 10). Calpine responded that they haven't decided yet. Cecilia Brown suggested the Army Corps of Engineers could be available to consult on entire project. She asked if there is a nexus with a federal agency. Calpine responded not yet. Section 7 has a 135 day review window. Section 10 review has no set time frames. It could be shorter or longer. Ms. Brown said it sounded like the issues are very complex. Paul Richins said that the CEC Commissioners would want to see a biological decision prior to their decision. Section 7 or Section 10 decision needs to be made quickly as it relates to a serious timing issue. Jeffrey Harris said there is a third alternative which is the informal process.

Someone asked if other animals would be permitted to cross through fencing to get to other side of hill under this plan. The City wants PG&E to close off access from Calpine area. The PG&E representative said that is fine as they have another access coming directly over the hill.

Break for lunch and site visit at 12:15

Afternoon session

The afternoon session began just before 1:45. Linda Spiegal asked about the 100 foot riparian setback the city requires. She also brought up the Santa Clara Valley Water District flood control concerns. Debra Crowe of CH2Mhill said that Fisher Creek is milky gray from possible agricultural runoff. She said they haven't seen any raptor nests on site. No young trees are on site because cattle are eating them. Calpine plans to enhance the riparian corridor. Calpine plans to plant trees along the levee.

Luis Jaimes introduced SCVWD comments they made to CEC in a letter. Vince Stevens wrote the letter but he wasn't available due to an emergency. SCVWD doesn't have a flood control concern if the hydraulics work but would need back up with a hydraulic study. Rick Austin from environmental division of SCVWD said the District may have different ideas for riparian improvements. Will plantings affect the flood control functions? Could have potential problems for SCVWD access. Acknowledge that this is a degraded little system. Black walnuts cause a problem for SCVWD. Mitigation should fit our parameters as well but we don't want to micromanage another's project. Calpine asked what are districts concerns about plantings near or on the berm or top of bank? Root systems have a potential to degrade the levee. Lorraine White asked Calpine if they are raising the entire site thus removing the need for the levee?

Linda Spiegal asked SCVWD about equestrian issues near Fisher Creek. It isn't precluded and SCVWD is open to those type of uses. Ken Abreu of Calpine asked what drainage issues does the Cisco project have on the creek as it moves by our property. Cisco is being dealt with at such a broad level right now.

People have expressed interest to use creek culvert under Monterey Road as a potential crossing to the Coyote Creek trail system. Luis wasn't able to respond now, but will get back to it as he gets up to speed.

Janice Moore said city usually defers planting decisions to the SCVWD. It needs to maintain the level of flood protection it is at right now. Cecilia Brown asked if District does any flood maintenance right now? SCVWD said near Laguna we do, but Fisher doesn't get general flood management work. Upstream there are problems with vegetation. We generally only work on them if it becomes a problem. CH2Mhill thinks if there were to be a trail system, it would go on the levee. Cecilia has problems with trail access as it is near wildlife. Bob Brown with the City Park Development Office said the City does have Fisher Creek as a multi-use trail corridor for pedestrian, bicycles and equestrian uses. He said there would have to be a 12 foot clearance if going under Monterey Highway. He said he hasn't looked at how to cross Santa Teresa Boulevard yet.

Laurel Prevetti, senior city planner, shared the City's comments regarding the Fisher Creek Riparian Corridor. "We [The City of San Jose] take the General Plan very seriously." The City Council in 1999 is even more committed to the General Plan than in 1994." Ms. Prevetti said although the city does make exceptions to the 100 foot setback required from a riparian corridor, planning staff does not perceive any of these conditions are met by the MEC project. She said this is a critical issue to the City. Site constraints are real. The site is too small. Jeffrey Harris of Calpine said we will sit down with you and do a better job making our case. Ms. Prevetti also outlined light, glare and noise concerns.

Towards the end of the meeting, a possible federal nexus was discovered when Cecilia Brown said the Army Corps of Engineers may have to look at the flow of water from the detention pond to outflow to drainage ditch to Fisher Creek. She said this could be a nexus to federal agency review under Section VII of the Endangered Species Act.

Paul Richins said he was unaware of the UTC site.

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