MERCED - The University of California, Merced has been granted a
key federal permit it needs to move ahead with future development
of its planned 25,000-student campus and associated university community.
The university’s permit application was approved by the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) under Section 404 of the U.S. Clean
Water Act. The permit was required because a portion of the
university’s campus and northern portion of the adjoining
university community involves federally protected wetlands
(approximately 85 acres). The initial application was filed in 2002
and resubmitted in 2008 after the university modified the proposed
footprint for its campus and the adjacent university community.
“Receipt of this important permit is a critical step forward in
the process of establishing a major 21st century research
university right here in the San Joaquin Valley, where the needs
and opportunities are enormous,” said UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang.
“University planners have worked very diligently over many years
to meet all regulatory requirements and reflect the thoughtful
suggestions of community leaders, agricultural groups,
environmentalists, government agencies and other interested parties
in our final proposal,” he said. “We are thrilled that we can now
move confidently ahead with long-term plans to build a world-class
institution that will provide lasting benefits to the region, the
state, the nation and the world.”
Kang said the multi-year, collaborative effort also benefited
greatly from the guidance and support of Congressmen Dennis Cardoza
and George Radanovich.
“We are especially grateful for the leadership and due
diligence of Congressman Dennis Cardoza and his staff,” Kang said.
“Since he first took office, Congressman Cardoza has worked at the
highest levels to ensure the federal agencies recognized the
unprecedented mitigation measures taken by the university as well
as our commitment to environmental stewardship.
“The university would also like to acknowledge the efforts of
Congressman George Radanovich, whose support and collaboration with
Congressman Cardoza and the university were invaluable as we worked
through the process.”
“I have worked closely with the Corps of Engineers and other
federal agencies to ensure that the university will have room to
accommodate 25,000 students while at the same time minimizing
impacts to the environment and prime agricultural lands,” said
Cardoza. “This decision clears the way for the university to expand
the campus to a full-scale research institution, with all of the
associated amenities and programs.”
Proposal meets environmental standard
In issuing the permit, USACE found that the university’s
proposal to develop 1,544 acres directly south and east of its
existing 104-acre site represents the “least environmentally
damaging practicable alternative” (LEDPA) for future phases of the
university’s multi-year project. Approximately 711 acres of the
proposed expansion site will be allocated to campus development and
833 acres to the northern portion of the university community
(primarily housing, shops, services and related amenities to
support the campus).
The southern portion of the university community, consisting of
1,118 acres directly south of the northern portion, is not a part
of the current permit.
Development under the new permit could begin as soon as next
month, when the university begins construction of a solar-energy
facility to help supply future electricity needs. Full development
of the campus is expected to take at least another 25 years.
In November 2008, UC Merced released its 2009 Draft
Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP) and a corresponding Draft
Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report
(EIS/EIR) for public review and comment. The LRDP describes the
layout, form, character and qualities of the fully developed campus
and outlines the university’s intentions to set new standards for
sustainable development and environmental stewardship. The EIS/EIR
examines the reduced environmental effects of its new, smaller
footprint and summarizes the university’s plans to offset or
mitigate the remaining impacts.
The revised footprint for the campus and the northern portion of
the university community calls for fill of approximately 85 acres
of wetlands, down from 121 acres in the previous configuration,
which will be fully offset by mitigation measures to ensure “no net
loss” of wetlands values and functions, as required under the Clean
Water Act. Approximately 2,318 acres of in-kind wetland habitat
will be set aside for permanent preservation, a ratio of 30 acres
preserved for each acre of wetlands developed. In addition, the
university in cooperation with the state has set aside 26,000 acres
of grasslands for permanent conservation.
The revised University Community Plan will require an amendment
to Merced County’s General Plan. The university is working with the
county to ensure the revision complies with principles prescribed
by the board of
supervisors when they approved
the first University Community Plan in 2004. There will be a
separate EIR prepared by the county in its consideration of the
revised University Community Plan. In addition, the City General
Plan amendment is expected to take account of the revised footprint
for the campus and the university community.
Managing the wetlands
UC Merced is also seeking to add more than 6,000 acres of
wetlands to the University of California’s Natural Reserve System
for research, monitoring and educational purposes. It has applied
to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a $350,000 grant to
fund this effort, which would be managed by the university’s Sierra
Nevada Research Institute.
The UC Natural Reserve System includes tens of thousands of
acres of protected natural lands throughout the state. The acreage
UC Merced hopes to add includes 5,030 acres within the Virginia
Smith Trust Preserve and 1,309 acres within the UC Merced Campus
Natural Preserve. These protected lands adjacent to the UC Merced
campus are believed to represent the largest intact vernal pool
landscape remaining in the world.
UC Merced Office Communications