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UC Merced Reiterates Commitment to Extensive Mitigation Measures While Balancing Central Valley’s Need for Expanded Access to Higher Education

July 29, 2006

MERCED, CA - The University of California, Merced said today
(July 29) it remains optimistic that the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers will issue the federal permit it needs for next-phase
development of its 910-acre campus and a contiguous university community.

The university issued the statement following an extensive
interview of a Corps staff member in which he speculated that the
permit might not be issued. The comments were reported in two area
publications this morning, without noting that they do not
represent the official position of the Corps.

Officially, the Corps has said it will be several more months
before they complete their draft environmental impact statement,
and perhaps as much as a year, before the permitting process has
been completed.

“The statements made by Mr. Roukey, as reported in the Merced
Sun-Star and the Modesto Bee this morning, represent the personal
opinions of a single individual,” said Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, UC
Merced chancellor. “They do not align with the facts as we know
them and are not supported by the Corps in any official way. The
permitting process has many months to go and does not call for the
Corps to make a decision until public hearings have been held and
all issues have been fully aired.”

After hearing all parties, the Corps’ decision will rest not
just on environmental issues, but on a variety of factors,
including land use, property ownership, and the needs of the
people. In addition, the final decision will incorporate the public
and private need of the proposed project.

Tomlinson-Keasey said the university “strongly disagrees” with
the staffer’s opinions on the likely outcome of the permitting
process. “We have worked closely and diligently with the Corps for
more than seven years and feel we’ve met every requirement to
demonstrate that our proposed site is the only practicable
alternative for future development of the campus and the associated
university community,” she said.

At issue is the university’s proposal to develop a site near
Lake Yosemite in Merced County that includes approximately 86 acres
of federally protected wetlands for the campus and the associated
university community, an essential part of the project that would
provide housing and services to support campus activities.
Development requires a permit issued by the Army Corps. To obtain
the permit, the university must demonstrate that the proposed site
is the best alternative for a campus than can accommodate up to
25,000 students at full development and the contiguous university community.

“The issues raised in the articles published today have been
fully addressed in volumes of documents we have submitted to the
Corps over the years,” said Tomlinson-Keasey.

“Our plans for full site development have always recognized the
need for a conscientious, thorough, ecologically sound program of
mitigation and land preservation. We take our stewardship
responsibilities very seriously and are committed to making UC
Merced a model of environmentally responsible development.”

In fact, a portion of the lands that have already been protected
are perfectly suited to extending research on this habitat and will
be available to researchers from all over the world.

UC Merced’s existing campus, now in Phase I of development, does
not include any protected wetlands and is not affected by the
permitting process. Phase I will encompass approximately 105 acres
and accommodate up to 5,000 students at build out, anticipated
around 2012. Future phases will include another 805 acres on
adjacent land and increase total campus capacity to approximately
25,000 students by 2035. The university community, to be built on
an adjacent parcel of 2,000 acres directly south of the campus, is
an integral part of the project.

In previous filings and public statements, the university has
repeatedly stated its commitment to “full mitigation,” both in
quantity and quality of lands affected, thereby meeting or
exceeding all federal requirements for wetlands development.

“We have the resolve, the scientific expertise and the resources
necessary to create or restore wetlands equal in size and quality
to any we affect,” said Tomlinson-Keasey. “We are fully committed
to a ‘zero net loss’ standard - that is, there will be no net loss
of wetlands or their functional values resulting from our development.”

Tomlinson-Keasey said the university has considered a number of
alternative sites and concluded that none would fulfill the defined
purpose of the campus and university community.

“Any other site would involve dozens of individual parcels of
land and property owners, making their acquisition extremely
problematic,” she said. Any site that does not incorporate an
adjacent community would result in farmland destruction and traffic
management, and would negatively impact the region’s air quality.

“Only the university’s proposed site would allow for the
continued, cost-effective development of the type of beneficial
research university long anticipated and much needed by the Central
Valley,” said Tomlinson-Keasey. “We are already well along in
addressing the real educational and economic needs of this
fast-growing, historically underserved region. The interests of
Valley residents are best served by moving ahead with the proposed
site as planned while holding ourselves to the high standards we
have set for full environmental mitigation.”

Tomlinson-Keasey noted that the university has already placed
more than 25,000 acres of high-quality vernal-pool habitat under
permanent protection. Each of these purchases was reviewed by a
number of state and federal agencies. In addition, the university
has committed to the preservation or enhancement of one acre of
habitat for every acre of developed land containing vernal pools.

The permitting process will include a 60-day period for public
comment as well as a four-hour public hearing conducted by the Army
Corps. Dates will be determined by the Corps.

“We welcome the open review process and look forward to
addressing any concerns related to our permit application after the
public process has taken place,” said Tomlinson-Keasey.

UC Merced opened September 5, 2005 as the 10th campus in the
University of California system and the first American research
university to open in the 21st century. The campus significantly
expands access to the UC system for students throughout the state,
with a special mission to increase college-going rates among
students in the San Joaquin Valley. It also serves as a major base
of advanced research and as a stimulus to economic growth and
diversification throughout the region. Situated near Yosemite
National Park, the university is expected to grow rapidly, topping
out at approximately 25,000 students within 30 years.


For more information about UC Merced: