UC Merced

Panel approves plans for UC Merced campus growth

The end of Main Street is a bridge crossing into the eastern end of the Town and Gown District, as shown in this artist rendering.
The end of Main Street is a bridge crossing into the eastern end of the Town and Gown District, as shown in this artist rendering.

The UC Merced long-range development plan and final environmental impact report received support from a key University of California Regents committee Tuesday.

The committee on grounds and buildings certified the findings of the university's environmental impact report and approved the 2009 long-range development plan.

The committee also adopted a mitigation monitoring program to address environmental concerns at the growing campus.

"I want to commend you for actually revising the campus plan to mitigate the impact on the wetlands," said regent Bonnie Reiss.

UC Merced planners decreased the size of the campus to 815 acres, from 910 acres.

Buildings have also been relocated farther south and east to create the "environmentally least-damaging alternative," according to paperwork filed with the Army Corps of Engineers.

The environmental impact report, also called an environmental impact statement, identifies potential significant environmental impacts associated with the development and operation of the planned 25,000-student campus in Merced County.

The Army Corps must review the final environmental impact report and will issue a record of decision within approximately 60 to 90 days, according to an estimated timeline on its Web site.

After the record of decision, the corps will issue permits that allow the university to build on lands protected by the U.S. Clean Water Act.

The university has worked with the Army Corps since 2002 on environmental impact plans.

In November 2008, the university released a draft of the final report to solicit community comments. Twenty-four comment letters were received by various public agencies and citizens, according to the resolution passed by the regents.

Among the environmental concerns submitted were decreased scenic views of the Sierra Nevada because of construction, increased air toxins, and various other issues related to the increase in population.

UC Merced laid out in detail what actions it would take to lessen each of those impacts.

In the construction phase, builders will use techniques to reduce dust particles in the air by watering down soil before it is removed or driven on.

Community leaders and citizens worried that the increased student population would increase car traffic on area roads and cause deterioration.

UC Merced agreed this was a possibilty and will pitch in for road repairs when needed.

As for the vistas, UC Merced said it will plant tall trees along the western boundary of campus to screen views of the campus facilities from Lake Yosemite. Roads and walkways will be located in areas that will provide views of the mountainside to travelers.

Thomas Lollini, associate vice chancellor for design and construction, said the university is committed to reducing any strain on local utitilies.

The first building to break ground after Army Corps land permits are issued will be a solar photovoltaic facility, Lollini said.

The power generated from the building is expected to produce about 20 percent of the campus' yearly electrical need.

Lollini said photovoltaic cells may also be installed on the rooftops of future buildings and that one planned building may include a photovoltaic skin.

Lollini said the university was also undertaking a water neutrality goal to reduce strain on the regional groundwater aquifer.

The committee's decision will be presented to the full board for final approval on Thursday afternoon. A public comment period will be held at 8:30 a.m. in the commons area at the UC Riverside campus where the board is meeting.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.

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