Wednesday, August 9, 2006
Airport error will cost $2 million
County to pay price for dumping dirt in snake habitat.
By Denny Walsh
The Sacramento (CA) Bee
The unlawful invasion of giant garter snake habitat by airport work crews will eventually cost Sacramento County more than $2 million. (Editor’s Note: This is our tax money being wasted here). While a 9.7-acre tule-filled slough known as Prichard Lake may have seemed like a good place to deposit dirt and other waste materials back in 1993 when the practice began, it has turned into a regulatory nightmare for the county and its personnel who operate Sacramento International Airport.
First, the wetlands are navigable waters of the United States as they are defined in the federal Clean Water Act. Consequently, nothing may be dumped there without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Second, the area is habitat for the giant garter snake, a threatened species that is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.
Sacramento County has agreed, through a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, to pay an $87,000 civil penalty for its admitted transgression.
The agreement calls for the county to spend an additional $2.2 million restoring 7.8 acres of the lake site to pre-1993 conditions and compensating for the temporary loss of the site by creating additional wetlands on an adjacent 33-acre parcel that once was a rice field.
U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. signed off on the pact Monday.
All of the property involved belongs to the county as part of an airport noise buffer zone and lies within the flight path of landing planes. It is located two miles north of the airport, a half mile south of the Sacramento-Sutter County line, and a half mile east of the Sacramento River.
Since the Corps of Engineers called a halt to the dumping in 2002, the county has spent $700,000 removing the fill that had been placed there and “creating some drainage courses to support continued movement of water through the site,” according to Robert Leonard, chief operating officer of county airports.
“With that work and the passage of time, in many ways the site has healed itself,” Leonard said. “The natural vegetation has recovered.”
Kathleen Dadey, regulatory project manager for the corps, said Tuesday all that is left for the county to do on the Prichard Lake site is construction of two channels leading from culverts under an adjacent abandoned road.
“In dry years, this could be another source of water for the site,” Dadey said.
Leonard, who called the dumping a “misguided venture,” said the county is ready to proceed with the enhancement portion of the project on the adjoining parcel.
“We have taken that acreage out of agriculture production in anticipation of creating new habitat for the snake,” he said.
Editor’s Note: I get the impression that these government agencies don’t have a clue as to whose money they are spending. After all, that $2,000,000 comes from the taxpayers, who also pay the Bureaucrats salaries. Seems to me there should be more collaboration and less penalization within our own government agencies.