August 30, 2011
CONTACT: Lilibeth Serrano 787-505-4397 Lilibeth_serrano@fws.gov
On August 23, 2011, the Service completed a Biological Opinion (BO) for the Via Verde Project. A BO does not constitute an endorsement of a project. Instead, the BO is the document that states the opinion of the Service as to whether or not the Federal action is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. The BO constitutes our final response to a petition for formal consultation submitted by the US Corps of Engineers (USACE) on July 11, 2011. Formal consultation is required when the Service concurs that a project may affect, is likely to adversely affect listed species.
Since June 2010, the Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office (CESFO) has provided comments and recommendations to the permit applicant (Puerto Rico Energy and Power Authority, PREPA), project consultants, local regulatory agencies and Federal agencies regarding the Via Verde project and its possible adverse effects to listed species and their habitats. CESFO reviewed several project documents and recommended to conduct site-specific studies, improve effect analysis for trust resources, identify alternative routes, and design and implement appropriate conservation measures to minimize possible adverse effects to listed species and their habitats. In May 2011, CESFO reviewed a draft Biological Assessment and did not concur with effect determinations for listed species. During the last four months CESFO has extensively worked with the USACE, PREPA and project consultants to identify alternative routes, re-align the project in the dry forest and northern karst, and designed site-specific conservation measures to avoid and minimize adverse effects to 34 listed species and highly important habitats in Puerto Rico originally identified by the Service. This technical assistance has been provided during informal section 7 consultation pursuant to the Endangered Species Act.
On July 15, 2011, USACE determined the Via Verde project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect four animal species and 27 plant species. The USACE determined that the project would not affect additional nine species. However, USACE determined that the project may adversely affect three listed species, the Puerto Rican boa, Puerto Rican broad-winged hawk and the Puerto Rican sharp-shinned hawk. The effect determinations were based on the re-alignment of the project in several areas, site-specific measures to avoid or minimize effects to listed species and protection of highly important habitat for some of the species. The information was presented to the Service in a revised Biological Assessment and revised maps submitted in July 11, 2011.
Following the Service’s recommendations, significant changes were made to the original proposal presented to the Service during consultation process. Thus, the Service concurred with the USACE, that the project, as presented in July 2011 may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect 31 species. Furthermore, the Service concurred that the project may affect and likely to adversely affect the Puerto Rican boa, Puerto Rican broad-winged hawk and Puerto Rican sharp-shinned hawk. The BO signed on August 23, 2011, describes in detail the scientific information and GIS models used by the Service to conclude that the project will not jeopardize the continued existence of the species. In addition, the Service anticipated incidental take for the three species and provided reasonable and prudent measures and terms and conditions that must be implemented to minimize the effects of incidental take on the Puerto Rican boa, Puerto Rican broad-winged hawk and Puerto Rican sharp-shinned hawk. Conditions include reporting and monitoring requirements.
The Service believes that with the implementation of the terms and conditions established in the BO, no more than 330 ac of Puerto Rican boa habitat, 104 ac of Puerto Rican broad-winged hawk habitat, and 189 ac of Puerto Rican sharp-shinned hawk habitat will be affected. The anticipated take is expected in form of harm and harass for the broad-winged hawk and the sharp-shinned hawk. Mortality is not anticipated for these two bird species, however it is anticipated for the Puerto Rican boa. If during the course of this action, the estimated level of loss is exceeded; such incidental take presents new information requiring reinitiating of consultation and review of the reasonable and prudent measures provided that include daily surveys and relocation of any found Puerto Rican boas.
At this time, the Service is in the process of providing preliminary comments to the USACE regarding appropriate measures to mitigate possible effects to wetlands. This process has not been finalized.
To find out more about the Service formal consultation process for Via Verde and to get a copy of the Biological Opinion, please visit us on the web at www.fws.gov/caribbean/viaverde.html. The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.