SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District (Corps), is evaluating a permit request for the Sand Creek Stabilization project (Project) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Project includes stabilization of 2,400 linear feet of the West Fork channel and 2,300 linear feet of the Sand Creek mainstem channel. The Project would result in permanent impacts to 3.64 acres of waters of the U.S., including 0.52 acre of wetlands. This notice is to inform interested parties of the proposed activity and to solicit comments.
AUTHORITY: This permit request is being evaluated under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) for the discharge of dredged or fill material in waters of the U.S. (WOTUS).
PERMITTEE: Kyle Hinton, Colorado Springs Utilities, Hancock Expressway, Mail Code 1825, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80947. Phone: (719) 668-8672. Email: KHinton@csu.org.
LOCATION: The Project is located within portions of Sections 13, Township 14 South, Range 66 West of the Sixth Principal Meridian in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Colorado, is bounded by Platte Avenue and Powers Boulevard to the north and northeast, respectively, and contains areas of the main stem of Sand Creek and West Fork of Sand Creek (Figure 1).
PROJECT DESCRIPTION: Colorado Springs Utilities plans to stabilize approximately 2,400 linear feet of the West Fork channel and 2,300 linear feet of the Sand Creek mainstem channel. Stabilization is proposed to protect the existing sanitary sewer lines running parallel to/and crossing Sand Creek (Figure 2). The project purpose is to stabilize sections of West Fork and Sand Creek in the project area. Stabilization measures would consist of:
- Installing grade-control (drop) structures to halt downcutting, reestablishing a stable channel invert, and protecting existing Sanitary Force Mains crossings
- Regrading vertical channel banks to 3:1 to 7:1 where possible
- Installing bank stabilization including soil riprap and boulder edging
- Restoring native vegetation through plantings and reseeding
PURPOSE AND NEED: The overall project purpose is to implement stabilization measures and channel improvements to protect existing infrastructure. Secondary purposes for the Project include habitat and safety improvements that are currently affected by the vertical cutbanks throughout the project area.
PROPOSED MITIGATION: The Corps requires that applicants consider and use all reasonable and practical measures to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources. After avoiding and minimizing impacts to aquatic resources, the Corps may require compensatory mitigation to offset the loss of aquatic resource functions resulting from the unavoidable impacts. In compliance with the requirements of the 2008 Mitigation Rule (33 CFR Part 332), the permittee provided a conceptual mitigation plan with their permit application.
To compensate for the permanent loss of 0.52 acre of emergent wetlands, the applicant has proposed to create 0.52 acre of emergent wetlands on-site. The mitigation plan would also incorporate native seeding in upland and transition areas adjacent to the channel.
To compensate for the permanent impacts to 3.13 acres of stream channel associated with installation of drop structures and regrading/reshaping of the channel, the applicant has proposed to build a high-flow channel to dissipate flows and reduce erosion. The Colorado Stream Quantification Tool will be used to determine the total functional-foot of impact and to ensure that the proposed mitigation provides appropriate compensation.
The Project has been designed to minimize impacts on the stream channels and riparian areas to the greatest extent practicable. Specific avoidance and mitigation measures developed during project design include the following:
- Minimizing impacts on jurisdictional aquatic resources by proposing more smaller drop structures in favor of fewer larger structures
- Grading back steep banks to less steep slopes where possible, reducing the need for boulder edging as much as possible
- Creating a high-flow channel along Sand Creek to disperse high flows and allow for the establishment of wetland and riparian vegetation
To minimize adverse effects to wetlands outside the project area, the Project would include best management practices (BMPs) during construction. These mitigative measures minimize adverse effects on water quality and prevent excessive sediment transport. Standard BMPs, including sediment-control logs, construction-limits fencing, vehicle-tracking control at the site entrance, and temporary rock check dams, would be used to reduce impacts outside of the project areas.
Water Quality Certification. Under CWA Section 401, the Corps cannot issue a permit to conduct any activity that may result in a discharge into WOTUS unless a Section 401 water quality certification (WQC) is granted, verifying compliance with water quality requirements, or WQC is waived. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Water Quality Control Division (WQCD) is the certifying authority responsible for making WQC decisions. The applicant has initiated Section 401 WQC review with CDPHE.
Environmental Setting. The project area is in the eastern portion of Colorado Springs and is generally surrounded by commercial and industrial development. West Fork flows from the northwest to the southeast through the project area and converges with Sand Creek in the eastern edge of the project area. In open areas, above the banks of West Fork and Sand Creek, the land consists mostly of upland grassland habitat. Vegetation in this habitat type has been largely disturbed in this portion of the project area because of the proximity to developed portions of the city. Some riparian habitat exists along the incised banks of West Fork and Sand Creek in the project area. Common trees and shrubs in these areas include Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila), plains cottonwood (Populus deltoides var. occidentalis), peachleaf willow (Salix amygdaloides), crack willow (Salix fragilis), sandbar willow (Salix interior), chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), American plum (Prunus americana), and wild licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota). Understory species in this habitat type consists of smooth brome (Bromus inermis), Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), sweetclover (Melilotus indicus), common sunflower (Helianthus annuus), and Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense). Portions of the channel banks, particularly along West Fork, are eroded from 2 to 25 feet. Due to the channel incision, wetlands occur as narrow fringes at the elevation of the ordinary high-water mark (OHWM). The dominant vegetation in the wetlands includes reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea), redtop (Agrostis gigantea), broadleaf cattail (Typha latifolia), Baltic rush (Juncus arcticus), and some patches of softstem bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani), with some small patches of water speedwell (Veronica catenata) and watercress (Nasturtium officinale). According to the applicant, Sand Creek is currently responding to system scour that is degrading the channel and putting infrastructure at risk. The stream has degraded over time and is a typical urban riparian corridor, with a narrow riparian buffer, disconnected floodplain, and riparian vegetation mainly composed of invasive species and noxious weeds.
Alternatives. The permittee has provided information considering five alternatives in the process of selecting the preferred alternative:
Alternative 1. No action
Alternative 2. Relocate existing infrastructure
Alternative 3. Perform stabilization through grading, drop structures, soil riprap, and triple-stacked grouted boulder edging
Alternative 4. Perform stabilization through grading, drop structures, soil riprap, and double-stacked boulder edging
Alternative 5. Perform stabilization with drop structures, grading, and riprap
Alternative 4 is the preferred alternative. The alternatives were developed within the constraints of the project area, which include the location of existing infrastructure, utility easements, property boundaries, and geomorphic and hydrologic characteristics. Generally, the proposed improvements were selected to provide channel stabilization along the project area reach, raise the channel invert to reduce the height of channel banks, protect infrastructure, restore hydrology to the adjacent riparian corridor, and minimize public safety concerns. Additional information concerning project alternatives may be available from the applicant or their agent.
EVALUATION FACTORS: The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the described activity on the public interest. That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. The benefit, which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the described activity, must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. All factors which may be relevant to the described activity will be considered, including the cumulative effects thereof; among those are conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historic properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shoreline erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food and fiber production, mineral needs, consideration of property ownership and, in general, the needs and welfare of the people. The activity's impact on the public interest will include application of the Section 404(b)(1) guidelines promulgated by the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (40 CFR Part 230).
The Corps is soliciting comments from the public, federal, state, and local agencies and officials, Indian tribes, and other interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of this proposed activity. Any comments received will be considered by the Corps to determine whether to issue, modify, condition, or deny a permit for this proposal. To make this decision, comments are used to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and other public interest factors listed above. Comments are used in the preparation of an Environmental Assessment and/or an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity.
HISTORIC PROPERTIES: To assist with the Corps’ consultation obligations under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the applicant provided a file review of the area of potential effect (APE) with the Colorado Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP). The OAHP provided the file search results on January 14, 2021 (OAHP File Search No. 23326). The file search results indicate no previous surveys have taken place in the project area and no previously documented cultural resources are located in the project area. The Corps defined the APE as the proposed project’s limits of disturbance, which includes three access and staging areas from Karr Road, Wooten Road, and East Bijou Street. Improvements to Sand Creek and the West Fork would include filling the creeks’ incised channels, constructing a stable channel bottom, flattening side and longitudinal slopes, and placing riprap and erosion control for bank and vegetation stabilization. The applicant conducted a Class III cultural resource survey in the APE on March 10, 2021. The Corps will consult with the State Historic Preservation Officer in accordance with 33 CFR 325, Appendix C, as appropriate.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The Corps has reviewed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) latest published version of federally listed endangered and threatened species located in El Paso County, Colorado. The Corps has made a preliminary determination that the proposed activity would have no effect on Preble’s meadow jumping mouse (PMJM), a federally listed threatened species, and its critical habitat. The project area is in an area designated by the USFWS as the PMJM Colorado Springs block clearance zone. In designating a block clearance zone, the USFWS eliminated the need for individuals or agencies to coordinate with the USFWS prior to conducting activities in habitats that otherwise would be deemed to have potential to support PMJM. The Corps will initiate consultation with the USFWS pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act in accordance with 50 CFR 402, as appropriate.
FLOODPLAIN MANAGEMENT: The Corps is sending a copy of this public notice to the local floodplain administrator. In accordance with 44 CFR Part 60 (Flood Plain Management Regulations Criteria for Land Management and Use), the floodplain administrators of participating communities are required to review all proposed development to determine if a floodplain development permit is required and maintain records of such review.
CLOSE OF COMMENT PERIOD: All comments pertaining to this public notice must reach this office by November 22, 2021. Extensions of the comment period may be granted for valid reasons provided a written request is received by the limiting date. If no comments are received by that date, it will be considered that there are no objections. Anyone may request, in writing, that a public hearing be held to consider this permit modification request. Requests shall specifically state, with particularity, the reason(s) for holding a public hearing. If the Corps determines that the information received in response to this notice is inadequate for thorough evaluation, a public hearing may be warranted. If a public hearing is warranted, interested parties will be notified of the time, date, and location. Comments and requests for additional information should be submitted to the project manager:
Tony Martinez, R.E.M.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District
Pueblo Regulatory Office
201 West 8th Street, Suite 350
Pueblo, Colorado 81003
Please note that names and addresses of those who submit comments in response to this public notice may be made publicly available through the Freedom of Information Act.
CORPS OF ENGINEERS