[Federal Register: July 28, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 144)]
[Page 40890-40891]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of an Environmental Assessment, Preliminary Finding 
of No Significant Impact, and Receipt of an Application for an 
Incidental Take Permit for a 32,400-Unit Residential Community To Be 
Built in Phases on 5,690 Acres Over a 32-Year Period, in Marion County, 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: On Top of the World, Inc., of Ocala, Florida (Applicant), 
seeks an incidental take permit (ITP) from the Fish and Wildlife 
Service (Service), pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended. The ITP would authorize the take 
of four families of the threatened Florida scrub-jay, Aphelocoma 
coerulescens and the threatened eastern indigo snake, Drymarchon corais 
couperi, in Marion County, Florida, for a period of thirty-two (32) 
years. The proposed taking is incidental to land clearing activities 
and residential development on a 32,400-acre project site (Project). 
The Project contains about 334 acres of occupied Florida scrub-jay 
habitat, and only one eastern indigo snake has been seen onsite, 
despite extensive surveys. The mitigation and minimization measures 
outlined in the Applicant's Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to address 
the effects of the Project to the protected species are described 
further in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below.
    The Service also announces the availability of an environmental 
assessment (EA) and HCP for the incidental take application. Copies of 
the EA and/or HCP may be obtained by making a request to the Regional 
Office (see ADDRESSES). Requests must be in writing to be processed. 
This notice also advises the public that the Service has made a 
preliminary determination that issuing the ITP is not a major Federal 
action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment 
within the meaning of section 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental 
Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), as amended. The preliminary Finding of No 
Significant Impact (FONSI) is based on information contained in the EA 
and HCP. The final determination will be made no sooner than 30 days 
from the date of this notice. This notice is provided pursuant to 
section 10 of the Act and NEPA regulations (40 CFR 1506.6). The Service 
specifically requests comment on the appropriateness of the ``No 
Surprises'' assurances should the Service determine that an ITP will be 
granted and based upon the submitted HCP. Although not explicitly 
stated in the HCP, the Service has, since August 1994, announced its 
intention to honor a ``No Surprises'' Policy for applicants seeking 
ITPs. Copies of the Service's ``No Surprises'' Policy may be obtained 
by making a written request to the Regional Office (see ADDRESSES). The 
Service is soliciting public comments and review of the applicability 
of the ``No Surprises'' Policy to this application and HCP.

DATES: Written comments on the permit application, EA, and HCP should 
be sent to the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be 
received on or before August 27, 1999.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application, HCP, and EA may 
obtain a copy by writing the Service's Southeast Regional Office, 
Atlanta, Georgia. Documents will also be available for public 
inspection by appointment during normal business hours at the Regional 
Office, 1875 Century Boulevard, Suite 200, Atlanta, Georgia 30345 
(Attn: Endangered Species Permits), or Field Supervisor, US Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 6620 Southpoint Drive, South, Suite 310, 
Jacksonville, Florida 32216-0912. Written data or comments concerning 
the application, EA, or HCP should be submitted to the Regional Office. 
Comments or requests for the documentation must be in writing to be 
processed. Please reference permit number TE010099-0 in such comments, 
or in requests for the documents discussed herein.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. David A. Dell, Permit Coordinator, 
(see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7313; or Mr. Jay Herrington, 
Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Jacksonville Field Office, (see ADDRESSES 
above), telephone: 904/232-2580, extension 114.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Aphelocoma coerulescens is geographically 
isolated from other subspecies of scrub-jays found in Mexico and the 
western United States. The Florida scrub-jay is found exclusively in 
peninsular Florida and is restricted to scrub habitat. The total

[[Page 40891]]

estimated population is between 7,000 and 11,000 individuals. Due to 
habitat loss and degradation throughout the State of Florida, it has 
been estimated that the Florida scrub-jay population has been reduced 
by at least half in the last 100 years. Surveys have indicated that 
eleven families of Florida scrub-jays inhabit the Project site. 
Construction of the Project's infrastructure and individual home sites 
will likely result in death of, or injury to, Aphelocoma coerulescens 
incidental to the carrying out of these otherwise lawful activities. 
Habitat alteration associated with property development will reduce the 
availability of feeding, shelter, and nesting habitat.
    The EA considers the environmental consequences of four 
alternatives. The no action alternative may result in continued loss of 
habitat for Aphelocoma coerulescens (through lack of fire management 
activity) or exposure of the Applicant under section 9 of the Act, 
should he decide to proceed with the Project without incidental take 
authorization. The on-site scrub habitat restoration alternative would 
require an ITP and would result in three scrub-jay territories being 
maintained where they are. In addition, habitat would be restored and/
or created to provide for an additional seven FSJ families. However, 
this alternative would be the riskiest, in that little success has been 
achieved in the creation of scrub habitat. The off-site mitigation 
alternative would result in the loss of all eleven families of FSJs on 
the project site and would provide funds to the state of Florida to 
allow management activities to take place on the nearby Ross Prairie 
site specifically for the benefit of scrub-jays. The Applicant rejected 
this alternative because he wishes to maintain scrub-jays on the 
Project site as an amenity to future residents. In addition, providing 
funds to public agencies to conduct management activities would only be 
useful to scrub-jays in the event there were no plans for the state to 
manage the site properly. The Service is currently working closely with 
the state agencies to ensure that such activities will take place 
without additional funding being provided by the Service. The proposed 
action alternative is issuance of the ITP with on-site mitigation. To 
mitigate for the 122 acres of occupied habitat that would be eliminated 
on-site, the applicant will preserve and manage 273.1 acres of occupied 
scrub-jay habitat in addition to 32.2 acres of habitat already 
preserved as a result of previous coordination of a smaller project 
within the boundaries of this permit application. To buffer human-
related impacts to the proposed preserves, buffers will be placed 
around them as outlined in the Environmental Assessment. Activities 
within the refuge areas will be limited to passive recreational 
activities on designated walkways. These preserves will provide habitat 
for any eastern indigo snakes occupying the site, as well. In addition, 
no clearing of scrub vegetation would occur during the nesting season 
of the Florida scrub-jay. The HCP provides a funding mechanism for 
these mitigation measures.
    As stated above, the Service has made a preliminary determination 
that the issuance of the ITP is not a major Federal action 
significantly affecting the quality of the human environment within the 
meaning of section 102(2)(C) of NEPA. This preliminary information may 
be revised due to public comment received in response to this notice 
and is based on information contained in the EA and HCP.
    The Service will also evaluate whether the issuance of a section 
10(a)(1)(B) ITP complies with section 7 of the Act by conducting an 
intra-Service section 7 consultation. The results of the biological 
opinion, in combination with the above findings, will be used in the 
final analysis to determine whether or not to issue the ITP.

    Dated: July 21, 1999.
H. Dale Hall,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 99-19238 Filed 7-27-99; 8:45 am]