In a San Luis Obispo City Council meeting that started earlier than usual, Council members voted 3-1 Tuesday to allow Costco to begin building, even though not all of the permits are in place. Christine Mulholland cast teh dissenting vote.
The debate centered on vernal-pool fairy shrimp, an endangered species that was found about a mile away from the proposed Costco site.
Costco wants to begin building its store next to Home Depot before completing a mitigation project on nearby Calle Joaquin, designed to mitigate traffic congestion caused by the store. However, work to straighten Calle Joaquin canâ€™t begin due to possible disruption of the endangered shrimpsâ€™ habitat.
Some City Council members said they donâ€™t to make Costco wait because the company is under contract to buy the land from the Madonna family by next month, and Costco told the city that it would be too risky to build without the Calle Joaquin permits.
The city accepted a $1.9 million bond from Costco, essentially allowing the company to begin construction on the condition that they complete the Calle Joaquin project in two years. This would allow biologists to determine the existence or inexistence of vernal-pool fairy shrimp in the vicinity of Calle Joaquin and create sufficient mitigation efforts.
â€œThe Army Corps of Engineers wonâ€™t issue a permit before the Fish and Wildlife Service do testing to determine if the fairy shrimp are there,â€? said Wendy George, assistant city administrative officer.
The move allows Costco to begin building before mitigation projects are completed and before the permits for road construction along Calle Joaquin are issued.
â€œIf Costco was not in the fray, we would be in the fray,â€? said City Council member John Ewan. â€œThe permit is something weâ€™re waiting for, not something thatâ€™s undoable.â€?
Unocal found fairy shrimp at their now-defunct tank farm on Tank Farm Road; when Unocal removed the tanks, fairy shrimp grew in the vernal pools created by the missing-tank depressions.
â€œMitigation for vernal-pool fairy shrimp can be fairly simple,â€? said Neil Havlik, natural resource manager for San Luis Obispo.
Before Costco or the city can begin mitigation efforts, though, biologists must first determine if the fairy shrimp are there this year at Tank Farm Road. In order to make a positive determination, biologists must examine the vernal pools for 120 days. If the pools dry up during this period, then they must start over.
According to Havlik, biologists have begun surveying and all three tests so far have been negative. Â³