In September 2003, the Williamson County Conservation Foundation (Foundation) was awarded a $200,000.00 federal grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to develop a draft conceptual Williamson County Regional Habitat Conservation Plan (RHCP), including conducting numerous pre-permit application activities and related items. The conceptual RHCP was completed and delivered to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the Foundation in November 2004.
In September 2004, the Foundation was awarded an approximately $1,000,000.00 federal grant from the USFWS to complete and process the final RHCP, Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and section 10(a) permit application in order to effectively and efficiently implement the Foundation’s conservation actions. A Preliminary Work Plan (Work Plan) covering items necessary to complete the RHCP was approved by the Williamson County Commissioners Court on November 23, 2004. The Work Plan requires quarterly reports to the Court of progress in developing and completing the RHCP. Accordingly, the following provides the quarterly report for the 3rd quarter of 2005, describing major tasks completed during this quarter. As indicated below, significant progress has been made since the last report. For example, key RHCP committees are meeting and reviewing the initial draft RHCP, in addition to other accomplishments. Dates in this memorandum refer to 2005, unless otherwise stated.
This section provides an update of tasks that have been performed since the previous quarterly report. Next, this section sets forth a general schedule outlining upcoming tasks to develop the RHCP.
1. Progress Report/Update onTasks Pursuant to the Work Plan.
(a) RHCP Development.
As described in more detail below, the consultant team has worked intensively during the third quarter of 2005 to actively review, discuss, and solicit comments on the draft RHCP from Foundation Board members, the RHCP Biological Advisory Team (BAT), the RHCP Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), and others. In addition, the team has met to work on revisions to the RHCP, including particularly development of the finance plan, the economic analysis, and the schedule for continued development of the RHCP.
(b) Committee Process, Agency Coordination.
Citizen’s Advisory Committee. The CAC met June 30 and July 28. Significant information was provided to CAC members, and they discussed and offered comments to the RHCP draft. At the June 30 meeting, Dr. Duane Schlitter, TPWD, reported to the CAC regarding the initial meeting of the BAT. Steve Paulson, aci Consulting, presented a powerpoint presentation regarding the history, ecology, and habitat requirements of endangered karst invertebrates in Williamson County. CAC members formed a Financing Plan Subcommittee, Preserve Establishment and Management Subcommittee, and Participation Process Subcommittee. Prime Strategies provided an extensive presentation regarding potential revenue sources for the RHCP.
At the July 28 meeting, Kevin Connally, Environmental Specialist, Travis County, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve Program, presented a powerpoint presentation regarding the background, current operation, and other issues and experiences involved in the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan. CAC members continued to select the CAC subcommittees on which they would serve. The Participation Process Subcommittee appointed Cecilia Roberts as chair of the Subcommittee, while the other Subcommittees decided to appoint the chairs of their respective Subcommittees at the next meeting. CAC members determined that the next meeting, to be held August 25, would consist of meetings of the various subcommittees as follows: 8:30 a.m. Financing Plan Subcommittee, 9:30 a.m. Preserve Establishment and Management Subcommittee, and 10:30 a.m. Participation Process Subcommittee. Following that meeting, the next meeting of the CAC Committee will be held September 22.
Biological Advisory Team. State law requires that TPWD appoint a representative to serve on the Biological Advisory Team (BAT), and that individual serves as Chair of the BAT. State law also requires that the landowner members of the CAC must appoint a representative to the BAT. Accordingly, a 9-member BAT has been formed with Dr. Duane Schlitter as Chair, and the CAC landowner members appointed Mike Warton to serve as their representative. The first meeting of the BAT was held June 22. At this meeting, the consultant team provided significant background material to the BAT, and the BAT also discussed organizational/operational matters regarding the committee.
Agency Coordination. USFWS and TPWD representatives have participated in the monthly Foundation Board meetings, in addition to their involvement with the CAC and BAT. Also, a TxDOT representative serves on both committees. An agency coordination meeting among representatives of pertinent federal, state, and local governmental entities is targeted for the week of September 5.
(c) Landowner/Public Outreach.
Various items related to RHCP development can be viewed on the RHCP website (http://wcportals.wilco.org/wccf) to enable the public to review materials and attend meetings pertaining to the RHCP. CAC, BAT, and Foundation Meeting notices are also posted in accordance with requirements of the Texas Open Meetings Act so that the public is aware of these efforts and can attend meetings. A landowner/public outreach meeting is currently targeted for October 12, 7-8:30 pm, at the Williamson County Maintenance Facility Building (3151 SE Inner Loop, Georgetown). The final CAC meeting may include public testimony by interested parties.
(d) Economic Analysis/Financing Plan.
The County issued a request for qualifications to conduct an economic impact study of the RHCP on the Williamson County area economy, and the Foundation Board selected the team comprised of Texas Perspectives and Capitol Market Research. This team has been selected, subject to approving their scope of services and contract price, currently scheduled for consideration at the August 10 Foundation Board meeting. The Foundation and Commissioners Court has approved a contract amendment to authorize Prime Strategies to develop the RHCP Financing Plan, and certain tasks pertaining to the development of the economic impact study. Prime Strategies has prepared numerous deliverables relative to developing the financing plan of the RHCP.
(e) Prepare Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
The consultant team has developed a rough outline of the draft EIS, and will continue to work to develop and expand this draft.
2. General Schedule of Major Tasks/Timeline for Continued RHCP Development.
The timeline for continued RHCP development is subject to change based on feedback from pertinent RHCP committees, in addition to other factors. Currently, the BAT is scheduled to meet August 17, the CAC subcommittees will meet August 25, and the BAT and CAC committees are tentatively scheduled to meet jointly on September 22. The committees will likely meet separately in October to provide final comments on the draft RHCP. An Agency Coordination meeting is currently targeted for the week of September 5.
The consultant team is targeting completing a revised draft RHCP in November 2005 that will incorporate comments of the various RHCP committees, Foundation Board members, and the public. A public scoping meeting, required under the National Environmental Policy Act, will likely be held in January 2006. A draft EIS will likely be completed summer 2006, the Final EIS will likely be issued fall 2006, and a Record of Decision will likely be issued winter 2006.