Main Content

FEMA publishes Environmental Impact Statement for proposed $5.67 million federal wildfire risk reduction projects in East Bay Hills

Release date: 
December 1, 2014

Final EIS revises fire reduction methodologies; provides for gradual invasive species reduction, encourages reestablishment of native vegetation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  December 1st
Media Contact Information: Mary Simms, mary.simms@fema.dhs.gov, (510) 627-7006

Oakland, Calif., --  The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has released its final environmental impact statement (EIS) relating to grant applications totaling $5.67 million to fund proposed hazardous fire risk reduction projects in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The EIS evaluates the potential environmental effects of proposed vegetation management projects designed to reduce wildfire risk in the East Bay Hills of Alameda and Contra Costa counties and at the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline in Contra Costa County.  The final EIS was filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on November 26th and will be published in the Federal Register this Friday, December 5, 2014.

Between 2005 – 2010, the University of California Berkeley, the City of Oakland, and East Bay Regional Parks District submitted a total of four grant applications to FEMA through California’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) for federal financial assistance totaling $5.67 million to implement hazardous fire risk reduction projects. Based on the wildfire hazard characteristics of the East Bay Hills and the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline, and the prolonged state-wide drought which has further intensified fire risk, FEMA has concluded that a need exists to reduce hazardous fire risk to inhabitants and structures in these areas.

The proposed grants were submitted to FEMA by the State of California on behalf of the named sub- applicants and are as follows:

PDMC-PJ-09-CA-2006-004 Oakland Regional Fuel Management Project (City of Oakland)

Total project cost = $4,000,000; federal funding application = $3,000,000

PDMC-PJ-09-CA-2005-003 University of California Fire Mitigation Project - Claremont Canyon (UCB)  Total project cost = $418,143.00;  federal funding application = $291,000.00

PDMC-PJ-09-CA-2005-011 - University of California Fire Mitigation Project - Strawberry Canyon (UCB)

Total project cost  = $404,040.00; federal funding application = $282,828.00

HMGP DR-1731-0016-0034 - East Bay Regional Park District, Brush Fuels Management Project

Total project cost = $3,025,210; federal funding application = $2,268,908

As part of the grant evaluation process, and in order to reach a determination on providing federal funding, FEMA is required by law to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which mandates that Agency decision-makers be fully informed of the environmental consequences of their decision to approve and fund such grants.  In addition, the public must be informed of the proposed actions; their potential consequences and the Agency’s ultimate decision on whether to proceed with funding the projects.

To satisfy uncertainties raised by the public concerning potential effects on the environment and public health of the proposed wildfire risk reduction projects, FEMA initially prepared an environmental assessment (EA) in 2010. That was followed by the more comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) being announced today.  That process included multiple public meetings and outreach activities to educate, encourage and invite public comment on the draft environmental impact statement about potential impacts of proposed and connected projects. FEMA published the draft EIS in April 2013.  Following the release of the Draft EIS, a public comment period which ended on June 17, 2013, yielded more than 13,000 individual comments from members of the public regarding the proposed projects.  The comments fell under the following general topic areas: biological resources; fire and fuels; geology, seismicity and erosion; water resources and water quality; air quality, climate and microclimate; historic properties; aesthetics and visual quality; socioeconomics; human health and safety; public services, utilities, and recreation; land use and planning; transportation; noise issues; cumulative impacts; project alternatives; public involvement; federal funding; and grants management.

One of the major revisions to the draft EIS influenced by information gathered during the public process is that FEMA will not fund the proposed methodology of eradicating designated tree species without a phased approach.  The originally proposed eradication methodology to completely and immediately remove the “overstory” was deemed not to satisfy the purpose and need for the grant of fire reduction, and therefore did not meet hazard mitigation program eligibility requirements. 

Identifying and analyzing implementation options is another required element of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) decision-making process that must be explored before federal funding can be awarded.  Based on input and issues raised during the public comment process, and in consultation with the grantee, sub applicants, and cooperating federal agencies, FEMA revised the vegetation management methodology for two of the three sub applicants – City of Oakland and UC Berkeley.  The revisions align the majority of proposed projects with a thinning alternative, the approach originally proposed by East Bay Regional Parks District as described in the Draft EIS.

The thinning approach has been scientifically validated by subject matter experts to effectively reduce fire risk.   The revised vegetation management methodology will result in fewer trees being removed in any single year in certain areas, with the same total fuel reduction accomplished by the conclusion of the project.  The EIS considers the overall impacts to the environment based on the amount of land treated and consequent impacts to resources.  Each grant applicant is responsible for their ongoing land management practices and determination for how much vegetation will be removed to accomplish their fire reduction goals within the scope of the vegetation management approach defined in the EIS.  Clear-cutting, a logging practice, is not part of the methodology considered in the EIS for any of the projects. 

Historically, 15 major wildfires have burned nearly 9,000 acres, destroyed approximately 4,000 homes, and killed 26 people in the proposed project areas. One of the fires, the 1923 Berkeley Fire, destroyed more than 550 homes in a few hours. A fire in 1970 consumed more than 200 acres and burned 37 homes. The 1991 Tunnel Fire killed 25 people, destroyed more than 3,000 homes, and did an estimated $1.5 billion in damage.

Included in the final EIS are two new appendices related to the public review of the draft EIS: Appendix Q, which provides responses to public comments received on the draft EIS and Appendix R, which presents the comment submittals that were received during the public comment period on the draft EIS.

FEMA will not take action on the East Bay Hills Hazardous Fire Risk Reduction grant applications until the Record of Decision (ROD) is published. According to NEPA regulations, FEMA cannot make a decision to fund this project until the record of decision, which can only happen following a minimum 30 day internal agency review period after the publication of the final EIS in the federal register on December 5th.

The final EIS and response to comments are available on the web at:  //ebheis.cdmims.com/FinalDocuments.aspx

and will also be made available at /environmental-historic-preservation-documents.

The public also may view hard copies of the EIS at the following locations:

• Oakland Main Library, 125 14th Street Oakland, CA 94612

• Oakland Rockridge Library, 5366 College Avenue Oakland, CA 94618

• Berkeley Main Library, 2090 Kittredge Street Berkeley, CA 94704

• San Leandro Main Library, 300 Estudillo Avenue San Leandro, CA 94577

• Richmond Main Library, 325 Civic Center Plaza Richmond, CA 94804

• FEMA Region IX Headquarters, 1111 Broadway, Suite 1200, Oakland, CA 94607-4052

• East Bay Regional Park District, 2950 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland, CA 94605-0381

• City of Oakland, Office of the City Clerk, Oakland City Hall, 2nd Floor, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612

• California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Unit 10390 Peter A. McCuen Blvd First Floor Sacramento, CA 95655

 

Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 12:06