On Tuesday, January 19th the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released its 2021 Work Plan for projects the Corps would execute during the FY 2021 cycle – including all dredging activities summer/fall 2021. San Rafael was not funded in this cycle for the dredging of its federal channel.
Though the dredging target date has been delayed a year, the Corps’ team are continuing to work closely with the City on the current design and environmental sampling work that is required before dredging of the channel can commence. These testing results will remain effective for regulatory purposes through 2023.
The City and Corps staff in San Francisco had anticipated that, as had been the past practice, the outgoing presidential administration would leave the finalizing of the Work Plan and projects to the incoming Biden administration. This is the custom during years in which there is a change in administrations. However, the outgoing presidential administration did not follow past practice, and instead released the Work Plan prior to the transition.
While the City and Corps staff have now pivoted to summer 2022 as the new, most likely timeline for dredging, there is a silver lining in the unanticipated 1-year delay. There is now more time to work with the Audubon Society to ensure permits are ready for their nearby project to do habitat restoration at the Tiscornia marsh, a site bordering the southeast end of the Channel. The Audubon Society is leading a large-scale habitat and wetland restoration project at the marsh – a project that will require a large amount of Bay sediment to build up the wetland. If the project were to achieve permitted status as a receiving site for dredging sediment (a prospect that would have been difficult with a 2021 dredge, but remains possible with a 2022 dredge), that would mean both USACE and the Audubon Society would have considerable cost savings on both of their projects. The marsh would provide an extremely localized and subsequently low-cost site for the USACE dredging contractor to deposit materials, and the Audubon society would receive much-needed materials for free. The Audubon society is seeking regulatory approval for this ambitious project from the various agencies that oversee permitting of the marsh as a depositary site including Fish & Wildlife (State and Federal), NOAA Fisheries, BCDC (Bay Conservation and Development Commission), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the Regional Water Control Board. The additional year will allow the Audubon Society to better coordinate their efforts with these regulators.
There is still time for any who wish to sign up through the City’s Umbrella Permitting program for the dredging of private docks, harbors and marinas to do so.