Concerns from the Department of Fish and Game regarding several rare plant species have halted the Mammoth Track Project’s attempt to get off the starting line.
Originally set to break ground this spring, the soonest the project could now begin is September, if at all this year.
“We are not sure if we will do a portion this summer and the rest next summer, or all of it next summer, we are still figuring that out,” explained Elaine Smith, representative of the High Sierra Striders, the running group that has been instrumental in pushing the project forward.
The project is a joint effort by the High Sierra Striders and the Town of Mammoth Lakes to bring a high-performance track and field to the Eastern Sierra, and is also known as the Whitmore Park Track and Sports Field Project. The Project is proposed within the Whitmore Regional Park on Benton Crossing Road near U.S. 395. It recently secured approximately $375,000 of the fall 2010 Measure R funding, as well as funding from other, private sources and previous Measure R cycles to get it to where it is today. The bump in the road came about when DFG made comments that the site had not been specifically studied for Inyo Phacelia (or Inyo scorpionweed), Alkali Ivesia, and Atriplex Pusilla (or smooth saltbrush), three plant species in the area.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) study for the site was done in conjunction with the CEQA study for the Town’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan because the site is already quite disturbed, according to Town Associate Planner Jen Daugherty.
“Our biologist didn’t go into detail on these species,” Daugherty explained to the Recreation Commission on Tuesday. “We did specific studies on sage grouse because we knew DFG was concerned with that species.”
So now the Town’s biologist, LSA Associates, will have to perform specific surveys to determine whether or not the plants are growing on the site. The holdup? Waiting for the plants to bloom.
The species bloom at different times between May and August, Daugherty said, which means spring/summer construction this year is not an option. If none of the plants are found on the site then no mitigation would be required, but if any of the species are found, mitigation may be required to reduce the impact of plant removal to less than significant, Daugherty said.
“If everything lined up [with the completion of the surveys and DFG’s green light], we could do the grading as well as other projects such as moving a septic tank in September, but there are costs incurred by breaking it [the work] up between this summer and next,” Smith explained.
Luckily, the delay will not affect any funding sources, according to Smith.
“None of the funding was reliant on timing, just on all the different funding sources coming together,” she said, referring to the pressure the group put on the Town to commit funding last fall. The commitment was necessary to get the other parties to come to the table.
In other good news, Mono County should be able to issue a use permit for the project even before the surveys are completed. “The County cannot act until they receive the Mitigated Negative Declaration, but all we need to do to complete that is to identify that the surveys will be done,” Daugherty said.
“It’s not a huge hurdle,” Smith said, pointing out that the only negative impact she could foresee was whether or not those entities that had offered in kind services, such as Mammoth Mountain and its grading equipment, would be able to accommodate the change in schedule.