MERCED — A long-awaited report crucial to UC Merced's 900-acre expansion plans might be available by late February, university and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials say.
Roderic Park, the campus's acting chancellor, said Thursday that he learned of the release of the corps' draft environmental report on the project during a recent meeting with corps officials.
Park said he had been dissatisfied with the slow progress of the report, but that has changed during the past two weeks.
"We have suddenly seen the process pick up speed, and things are starting to happen," Park said.
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The report is important because University of California at Merced officials will need a permit from the corps to expand the campus by building on federally protected wetlands.
As proposed, UC Merced's expansion just east of Lake Yosemite would cover 93 acres, 72 of which contain vernal pools with endangered species.
Under the federal Clean Water Act, the corps can permit UC Merced to destroy vernal pools only if the university agrees to take measures to make up for any environmental impacts.
UC Merced has bought more than 25,000 acres for mitigation purposes.
Bruce Henderson, a senior project manager with the Corps of Engineers, also said he expects the report to be released by late February, and it probably will be available on the Internet or CD ROM.
"That is the target date, and we're going to try to achieve that in some fashion," Henderson said.
Henderson said the specific date for the release of the document largely depends on when a corps consultant completes his work.
Once the document is released, the public will have 60 days to comment, Henderson said.
"After we receive these comments, we determine which comments on the various environmental effects of this project should be addressed more fully," Henderson said. "Sometimes these things require additional data to be collected. Sometimes they require a modification of the project in some fashion." After reviewing public comments, the corps will release a final draft environmental report, followed by a 30-day comment period.
Col. Ronald Light, district engineer with Corps of Engineers, ultimately will decide whether UC Merced will be granted the permit, Henderson said.
"There will be some negotiations, and I imagine by the beginning of next fall we will have a much better idea of just how things are going to work out," Park said. "There certainly will be determinations made by the end of the year."