Elk Grove’s pending withdrawal from a habitat conservation plan has further delayed a decades-old proposal to protect sensitive plants and wildlife in the county when developers build new projects, officials said this week.
The Elk Grove City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on a resolution that would remove the city from the South Sacramento Habitat Conservation Plan. Elk Grove officials say they plan to withdraw because the city no longer needs additional preservation land after a local planning agency rejected its bid to expand its boundaries to the south.
County officials are concerned that the delay may jeopardize a $750,000 federal grant.
Sean Wirth of the Environmental Council of Sacramento expressed frustration in yet another hurdle in the habitat plan. “It’s taken 22 years and we have lost a huge amount of habitat in that time,” he said.
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The plan is expected to cover 40 species of plants and wildlife, such as vernal pools – seasonal wetlands that house threatened species such as the fairy shrimp and tadpole shrimp – around Mather and Rancho Seco in the southeast corner of the county. The plan would protect a patchwork of agricultural and rural parcels rather than result in one contiguous conservation space. Some areas would be protected through easements that allow private property owners to retain their land, others through public purchase.
Questions about Elk Grove’s role have delayed progress of the habitat plan since the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission voted five months ago to reject the city’s application to expand its boundaries by about 30 percent south of Kammerer Road.
Because the city will have to develop within its existing boundaries, it has no need to participate in the habitat conservation plan, said Planning Director Taro Echiburu. The city intended to use the plan to mitigate environmental loss in its proposed growth area.
Without the growth area, the city does not see the need to spend $600,000 on the habitat plan in the next two years, he said.
Echiburu said the city’s withdrawal should not prevent the plan from moving forward.
Sacramento County Planning Director Leighann Moffitt agreed that the plan will continue without Elk Grove’s participation. Sacramento County is the lead agency on the plan, which also includes Rancho Cordova, Galt, the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District and the joint powers authority planning the Capital SouthEast Connector road. State and federal regulators are also participating in the plan.
However, the question about how to handle Elk Grove’s participation has delayed approval of the plan’s boundaries, which has held up needed environmental impact studies, Moffitt said. As a result, the county faces the possibility of losing a $750,000 federal grant to complete the studies, she said.
The federal grant expires in July. The impact studies could not start until the plan’s boundaries were approved, which the Board of Supervisors did Tuesday. The boundaries cover areas where developers can build and participate in the plan by purchasing other land to offset the loss of biological resources. The boundaries roughly run south of U.S. 50 and Sacramento, north of Grant Line and Kammerer roads, east of Interstate 5 and west of El Dorado County.
The county plans to ask for a federal grant extension, Moffitt said. The county also plans to ask Elk Grove for at least a portion of the $300,000 the city was expected to pay for the plan this year, she said.
The habitat proposal has faced many delays since the planning process started in the 1990s. The county submitted a proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010, but the federal agency rejected it as insufficient, in part because it didn’t do enough to protect vernal pools.
The county hopes to have a final plan approved within two years, Moffitt said.