[Federal Register: September 15, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 178)]
[Page 55645-55647]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Receipt of Application for an Incidental Take Permit by the 
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for Proposed 
Improvements to Gulf State Park Hotel/Convention Center & Pavilion, 
Gulf Shores, Baldwin County, AL

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability of application for an incidental take 
permit, habitat conservation plan and environmental assessment.


SUMMARY: The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 
(Applicant) has applied to the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for 
an incidental take permit [ITP] under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 United States Code [U.S.C.] 1531 et 
seq.), as amended (Act) for the take of Alabama beach mouse (Peromyscus 
polionotus ammobates) (ABM). The proposed take would be incidental to 
otherwise lawful activities, including the demolition of the current 
facility, site grading, and construction and development of a new 
facility. The proposed facility would consist of a seven-story hotel 
with a total of 350 guest rooms, a beach inn with 100 guest rooms, four 
beach side cottages with a total of 16 rooms, a new beach pavilion, and 
other amenities. The proposed project would result in a net gain of 
3.16 acres of ABM habitat. The proposed action would involve approval 
of the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) developed by the applicant, as 
required by section 10(a)(2)(B) of the Act, to minimize and mitigate 
for incidental take of the federally listed endangered Alabama beach 
mouse (Peromyscus polionotus ammobates) (ABM), the threatened green sea 
turtle (Chelonia mydas), the threatened loggerhead turtle, (Caretta 
caretta), and the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys 
kempii). A detailed description of the mitigation and minimization 
measures to address the effects of the project on the ABM and sea 
turtles is provided in the applicant's HCP, the Service's Environmental 
Assessment and in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below. The 
Service announces the availability of an Environmental Assessment (EA) 
and Habitat Conservation Plan/Application for Incidental Take.

DATES: Written comments on the ITP application, HCP and EA should be 
sent to the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be 
received on or before October 15, 2004.

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, Ecological Services Field 
Office, 1208-B Main Street, Daphne, Alabama 36526. Written data or 
comments concerning the application or HCP should be submitted to the 
Regional Office. Please reference Gulf State Park Reconstruction and 
the permit number TE-072831-0 in requests for the documents discussed 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Joe Johnston, Regional Project 
Manager, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-4155; or Ms. Barbara 
Allen, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Daphne Field Office (see 
ADDRESSES), telephone: 251/441-5873.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We announce the availability of an EA and 
HCP application for an incidental take permit. The EA is an assessment 
of likely environmental impacts associated with this project. Copies of 
these documents may be obtained by making a request, in writing, to the 
Regional Office (see ADDRESSES). This notice advises the public that we 
have opened the comment period on the permit application, which 
includes an HCP and the EA. This notice is provided under section 10 of 
the Act and NEPA regulations at 40 CFR 1506.6.
    We specifically request information, views, and opinions from the 
public via this notice on the Federal action, including the 
identification of any other aspects of the human environment not 
already identified in the EA. Further, we specifically solicit 
information about the adequacy of the HCP as measured against our ITP 
issuance criteria found in 50 CFR parts 13 and 17.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit comments by any one of 
several methods. Please reference Gulf State

[[Page 55646]]

Park Reconstruction and permit number TE-072831-0 in your comments. You 
may mail comments to the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES). You 
may also comment via the Internet to joe_johnston@fws.gov. Please 
submit comments over the Internet as an ASCII file avoiding the use of 
special characters and any form of encryption. Please also include your 
name and return address in your Internet message. If you do not receive 
a confirmation from us that we have received your Internet message, 
contact us directly at either telephone number listed (see FOR FURTHER 
    Finally, you may hand deliver comments to either Service office 
listed (see ADDRESSES). Our practice is to make comments, including 
names and home addresses of respondents, available for public review 
during regular business hours. Individual respondents may request that 
we withhold their home address from the administrative record. We will 
honor such requests to the extent allowable by law. There may also be 
other circumstances in which we would withhold from the administrative 
record a respondent's identity, as allowable by law. If you wish us to 
withhold your name and address, you must state this prominently at the 
beginning of your comments. We will not, however, consider anonymous 
comment. We will make all submissions from organizations or businesses, 
and from individuals identifying themselves as representatives or 
officials of organizations or businesses, available for public 
inspection in their entirety.
    The ABM is one of eight subspecies of the old field mouse 
restricted to coastal dunes. We estimate that ABM historically occupied 
about 28 miles [mi] of shoreline. By 1987, the total occupied linear, 
shoreline habitat for the ABM, Choctawhatchee, and Perdido Key beach 
mice was estimated at less than 22 mi. Monitoring (trapping and field 
observations) of the ABM population on other private lands that hold, 
or are under review for, an ITP during the last five years indicates 
the Fort Morgan Peninsula remains occupied (more or less continuously) 
by ABM along its primary and secondary dunes, and interior habitats.
    The ABM is known to occupy about 55.8 acres of land within the 
action area of the project. At this time, ABM have not been recorded on 
or west of the existing hotel and convention center compound. 
Construction and occupancy of the new park facilities may result in the 
incidental taking of ABM. The applicant, recognizing the potential for 
such an event, is seeking the issuance of an incidental take permit for 
the ABM from us.
    The proposed project will include the demolition, removal and off-
site disposal of all existing above-ground structures and paved 
surfaces, south of Highway 182. Items to be removed include the 
    A. About 16 acres of pavement from existing driveways and parking 
    B. Twelve existing hotel units (cottages) and two associated 
maintenance buildings;
    C. One abandoned tennis court; and
    D. The convention center and associated pool and deck area.
    Land where the hotel and convention center now stand will be used 

for the new hotel center or returned to its natural state. This will 
result in restoration of 14.7 acres of dune habitat that will adjoin 
verified occupied ABM habitat to the east. The applicant's restoration 
of these 14.7 acres provides for a net gain of 3.16 acres of habitat 
over that which currently exists in the action area. All of these acres 
would be capable of supporting the ABM.
    With the implementation of the habitat enhancement measures 
outlined in the applicant's HCP, the quality of existing habitat will 
be improved. Construction activities associated with site preparation, 
heavy equipment operations, and site alterations within habitat 
occupied by ABM may impact individuals by crushing or burying them in 
their burrows, or by impairing essential breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering behaviors.
    Through project planning minimization effects, impacts to ABM 
habitat resulting from project conservation have been limited to 11.55 
acres. This impact is primarily confined to three areas: (1) 4.54 acres 
west of the entrance road to Gulf State Park Pier; (2) 5.88 acres 
located east of the same entrance road and (3) 1.13 acres located 
around the pavilion. At this time, although the first two areas (near 
the existing hotel and convention center) appear to be suitable 
habitat, they are not known to contain ABM nor do they adjoin any known 
occupied habitat. The third area, near the pavilion site, is known to 
support ABM. This area will be directly affected by construction of 
buildings and associated infrastructure.
    The majority of the new building and construction efforts will 
remain within the footprint of the currently impacted area. There are 
2.1 acres of scrub dunes, not suitable for ABM use, which will be 
impacted by the proposed action. However, since this acreage is not 
suitable for the ABM, its loss is not considered as an adverse impact 
to the ABM.
    Construction activities associated with site preparation, heavy 
equipment operations, and site alterations within habitat occupied by 
ABM may impact ABM by crushing or burying them in their burrows, or by 
impairing essential breeding, feeding, or sheltering behaviors. 
Following construction, use of the area may also result in take of ABM 
due to inadequate garbage or refuse management that could attract ABM 
competitors or predators, and lights that may alter ABM nocturnal 
behavioral patterns. Boardwalks running perpendicular to the beach will 
act as a safeguard against pedestrian use of the dune system that may 
cause erosion and the loss of habitat required for ABM shelter, food, 
and reproduction.
    The EA considers the effects of three project alternatives, 
including an alternative that would result in no new construction on 
the project site. Alternative 1 would not be economically feasible for 
the applicant. Alternative 2 and 3 involve the proposed development of 
44.29 or 54.09 acres of a 137.8 acre action area in connection with the 
replacement, construction, occupancy, use, operation, and maintenance 
of the proposed new Gulf State Park Hotel/Convention Center, lodging 
facilities, and parking. The difference between these two alternatives 
relate to the amount of habitat restored and preserved for the ABM.
    Alternative 3, the preferred alternative involves the greatest 
amount of habitat restoration and preservation and includes revisions 
designed to avoid or minimize take by reducing the impacts to habitat 
and enhance restoration efforts while still providing the necessary 
infrastructure improvements to increase use of the Park and provide an 
influx of about $65 million per year (increase of $52 million per year) 
to the local economy. The resulting alternative was chosen as the 
preferred alternative and would create a net gain of 3.16 acres of 
habitat exhibiting constituent elements of ABM CH. This alternative 
will allow 14.7 acres of currently degraded or developed land (which is 
adjoining ABM occupied habitat), to be restored to natural habitat with 
the potential for future ABM occupancy.
    Under section 9 of the Act and its implementing regulations, 
``taking'' of endangered and threatened wildlife is prohibited. 
However, we, under limited circumstances, may issue permits to take 
such wildlife if the taking is incidental to and not the purpose of 
otherwise lawful activities. The applicants have prepared a HCP which 
includes measures for the long-term

[[Page 55647]]

protection, management, and enhancement of ABM habitat as required for 
the incidental take permit application as part of the proposed project
    We will evaluate whether the issuance of the 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: August 25, 2004.
Sam D. Hamilton,
Regional Director, Southeast Region.
[FR Doc. 04-20772 Filed 9-14-04; 8:45 am]