[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 247 (Friday, December 23, 2011)]
[Pages 80385-80387]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-32894]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R8-ES-2011-N240; FF08ESMF00-FXES11120800000F2-123]

Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Proposed Maricopa Sun 
Solar Complex Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan, Kern County, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent; announcement of public scoping meetings; 
request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), intend to 
prepare a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National 
Environmental Policy Act for the proposed Maricopa Sun Solar Complex 
Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) under development by Maricopa Sun, LLC. 
The draft EIS will evaluate the impacts of several alternatives related 
to the HCP being proposed by Maricopa Sun, LLC in support of its 
anticipated application for an Endangered Species Act permit for 
incidental take of five federally endangered species (one reptile and 
four mammal species) and 14 California special status species (one 
amphibian species, three reptile species, six avian species, and four 
mammal species) from activities associated with the construction, 
operation, and decommissioning of a 700 megawatt photo-voltaic power 
generating facility and implementation of conservation actions 
associated with the HCP in Kern County, California. We also announce 
plans for a public scoping meeting and the opening of a public comment 
period. We request data, comments, new information, or suggestions from 
the public, other concerned governmental agencies, the scientific 
community, Tribes, industry, or any other interested party.

DATES: A public scoping meeting will be held to solicit comments from 
interested parties to assist in determining the scope of the 
environmental analysis, including the alternatives to be addressed, and 
to identify significant environmental issues related to the Proposed 
Action. The scoping meeting date and location are:
     Monday, January 23, 2012 from 1-3 p.m.
     Kern County Public Services Building, 2700 M Street 
Conference Room 1-A, Bakersfield, CA 93301.

    To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by close 
of business February 21, 2012.

ADDRESSES: To request further information or submit written comments, 
please use one of the following methods, and note that your information 
request or comment is in reference to the Maricopa Sun Solar Complex 
Habitat Conservation Plan.
     U.S. Mail: 2800 Cottage Way, Room W-2605, Sacramento, 
California 95825-1846.
     In-Person Drop-off, Viewing, or Pickup: Call (916) 414-
6600 to make an appointment during regular business hours to drop off 
comments or view received comments at the above location.
     Fax: Justin Sloan or Mike Thomas, (916) 414-6713, Attn.: 
Maricopa Sun Solar Complex Habitat Conservation Plan.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Justin Sloan, Senior Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, (916) 414-6600 (phone) or Mike Thomas, Chief, Habitat 
Conservation Planning Division, (916) 414-6678 (phone). If you use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf, please call the Federal 
Information Relay Service at (800) 877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(Service), publish this notice under the National Environmental Policy 
Act of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.; NEPA), and its 
implementing regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 40 
CFR 1506.6, as well as in compliance with section 10(c) of the 
Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.; Act). We intend to 
prepare a draft EIS to evaluate the impacts of several alternatives 
related to the potential issuance of an incidental take permit (ITP) to 
the applicant, as well as impacts of the implementation of the 
supporting HCP.
    The applicant proposes to develop an HCP as part of their 
application for an ITP under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act. The 
proposed HCP will include measures necessary to minimize and mitigate 
the impacts, to the maximum extent practicable, of potential proposed 
taking of federally listed and non-listed species to be covered by the 
HCP, and the habitats upon which they depend, resulting from 
construction, operation, and decommissioning of a 700 megawatt photo-
voltaic power generating facility and implementation of conservation 
actions associated with the HCP in Kern County, California.
    The project is a proposed 700 megawatt solar power facility within 
a proposed planning area covering approximately 6,766 acres in the 
southwest portion of unincorporated Kern County, California. Multiple 
parcels comprise the project, which are approximately six to 20 miles 
east of Taft along South Lake Road and along Copus Road. The individual 
sites can be accessed from Interstate 5, South Lake Road and Copus 
Road, and several other access roads.


    Section 9 of the Act prohibits taking of fish and wildlife species 
listed as endangered or threatened under section 4 of the Act. Under 
the Act, the term ``take'' means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, 
wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any 
such conduct. The term ``harm'' is defined in the regulations as 
including significant habitat modification or degradation that results 
in death or injury to listed wildlife by significantly impairing 
essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering (50 CFR 17.3). The term ``harass'' is defined in the 
regulations as to carry out actions that create the likelihood of 
injury to listed wildlife by annoying it to such an extent as to 
significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns, which include, but 
are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (50 CFR 17.3).
    However, under specified circumstances, the Service may issue 
permits that allow the take of federally listed wildlife species, 
provided that the take that occurs is incidental to, but not the 
purpose of, an otherwise lawful activity. Regulations governing permits 
for endangered and threatened species are at 50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32, 
    Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act contains provisions for issuing 
incidental take permits to non-Federal entities for the take of 
endangered and threatened wildlife species, provided the following 
criteria are met:
    1. The taking will be incidental;

[[Page 80386]]

    2. The applicants will, to the maximum extent practicable, minimize 
and mitigate the impact of such taking;
    3. The applicants will develop a proposed HCP and ensure that 
adequate funding for the plan will be provided;
    4. The taking will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the 
survival and recovery of the species in the wild; and
    5. The applicants will carry out any other measures that the 
Service may require as being necessary or appropriate for the purposes 
of the HCP.
    Thus, the purpose of issuing an ITP would be to allow the applicant 
to carry out development activities associated with the proposed photo-
voltaic power generating facility while conserving the covered species 
and their habitats. The Service expects that the applicants will 
request ITP coverage for a period of 50 years.

Alternatives in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement

    The proposed action presented in the draft EIS will be compared to 
the no-action alternative. The no-action alternative represents 
estimated future conditions assuming an ITP is not issued, to which the 
proposed action's estimated future conditions can be compared. Other 
alternatives, including their potential impacts, will also be addressed 
in the draft EIS.

No-Action Alternative

    Under the no-action alternative, an ITP pursuant to Section 
10(a)(1)(B) of the Act would not be issued for development of the 
Maricopa Sun Solar Complex Project. The proposed Maricopa Sun Solar 
Complex Project and HCP would not occur without issuance of an ITP. 
According to the applicant, the proposed planning area would be 
reconsidered and the existing land uses would be maintained at the 
sites of proposed photovoltaic facilities until and unless an ITP could 
be secured. The applicant's intended purpose for the project would not 
be met under the no-action alternative.

Proposed Alternative

    The proposed action is the issuance of an ITP to Maricopa Sun, LLC 
covering impacts to the 20 covered species resulting from development 
activities within the proposed planning area for a period of 50 years. 
The proposed HCP, which must meet the requirements of section 
10(a)(2)(A) of the Act, including measures that minimize and mitigate 
the effects of the potential incidental take of covered species to the 
maximum extent practicable, would be developed and implemented by the 
applicant. This alternative would be intended to allow for a 
comprehensive mitigation approach for unavoidable impacts and reduce 
permit processing times and efforts for the applicant and the Service.
    Activities proposed for coverage under the proposed ITP would be 
otherwise lawful activities that could occur consistent with the HCP, 
to include, but not be limited to the following general categories:

1. Pre-construction
2. Construction
3. Operation
4. Decommissioning
5. Preservation/Enhancement
6. Conservation Plan Management

    Pre-construction could include activities such as surveying and 
staking, clearing and grubbing, staging areas, temporary access roads, 
drainage and erosion control, and geotechnical drilling. Construction 
related activities could include grading and compaction, trenching, 
paving of access roads, installation of solar arrays, meteorological 
stations, transmission lines, septic leach fields, fencing, and 
landscaping. Construction of solar facilities on all sites is 
anticipated to be completed over an 8 to 10 year period from the 
commencement of the initial development; however, unknown constraints 
could extend the development phase to a 10 to 15 year period. 
Construction of the project will occur in a series of approximately 1 
megawatt blocks, consisting of approximately 5 to 8.64 acres each. It 
is anticipated that construction of each section (640 acres) within the 
Maricopa Sun Solar Complex will take 12 to 18 months. Operation related 
activities could include solar panel maintenance, on-site parking, 
operation of solar modules, inspection, and repair of equipment, and 
operation of lighting. Typical activities associated with 
decommissioning of the solar energy facility include removal of all 
solar electric systems, buildings, cabling, electrical components, 
breaking up of concrete pads and foundations, removal of access roads, 
additional grading, and replacement of soil disturbed from 
decommissioning. Preservation/enhancement and conservation plan 
management activities could include vegetation control (i.e., grazing 
and mowing), fence installation, special status species monitoring 
(i.e., surveys such as trapping, use of remote cameras and 
spotlighting), and habitat restoration and creation.
    We anticipate that the following five federally listed endangered 
species will be included as covered species in the applicants' proposed 

Blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia sila)
Tipton kangaroo rat (Dipodomys nitratoides nitratoides)
Giant kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ingens)
San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica)
Buena Vista Lake shrew (Sorex ornatus relictus)

    We also anticipate that the following federally non-listed species 
will be included as covered species in the applicant's proposed HCP:

Western spadefoot (Spea hammondii)
Silvery legless lizard (Anniella pulchra pulchra)
San Joaquin whipsnake (Masticophis flagellum ruddocki)
California horned lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum)
Western Burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia)
Swainson's hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
Mountain plover (Charadrius montanus)
Northern harrier (Circus cyaneus)
White-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus)
Le Conte's thrasher (Toxostoma lecontei)
San Joaquin antelope squirrel (Ammospermophilus nelson)
Western mastiff bat (Eumops perotis californicus)
Tulare grasshopper mouse (Onychomys torridus tularensis)
San Joaquin pocket mouse (Perognathus inornatus).

    Inclusion of these non-listed species as covered species will be 
determined during the HCP planning and development process. If included 
as covered species, the HCP will treat these species the same as the 
federally listed species. All species included in the incidental take 
permit would receive assurances under our ``No Surprises'' regulations 
(50 CFR 17.22(b)(5) and 17.32(b)(5)).

Other Alternatives

    The draft EIS will include a reasonable range of additional 
alternatives. The range of alternatives considered in the draft EIS 
could include variations in impacts, conservation, permit duration, 
covered species, covered activities, permit area, or a combination of 
these elements.

Environmental Review and Next Steps

    The Service will conduct an environmental review to analyze the 
proposed action, along with other alternatives evaluated and the 
associated impacts of each. The draft EIS will evaluate impacts for 
each covered species and is expected to provide biological descriptions 
of the

[[Page 80387]]

affected species and habitats, as well as the effects of the 
alternatives on other resources, such as vegetation, wetlands, 
wildlife, geology and soils, air quality, water resources, water 
quality, cultural resources, land use, recreation, water use, local 
economy, and environmental justice.
    Following completion of the environmental review, the Service will 
publish a notice of availability and a request for comment on the draft 
EIS and the applicant's permit application, which will include the 
proposed HCP. The draft EIS and proposed HCP are expected to be 
completed and available to the public in spring 2012.

Public Comments

    We request data, comments, new information, or suggestions from the 
public, other concerned governmental agencies, the scientific 
community, Tribes, industry, or any other interested party on this 
notice. We will consider these comments in developing a draft EIS and 
in the development of a HCP and ITP. We particularly seek comments on 
the following:
    1. Biological information concerning the species;
    2. Relevant data concerning the species;
    3. Additional information concerning the range, distribution, 
population size, and population trends of the species;
    4. Current or planned activities in the planning area and their 
possible impacts on the species;
    5. The presence of archeological sites, buildings and structures, 
historic events, sacred and traditional areas, and other historic 
preservation concerns, which are required to be considered in project 
planning by the National Historic Preservation Act;
    6. Identification of any other alternatives to the proposed action 
that should be analyzed in the draft EIS; and
    7. Identification of any other environmental issues that should be 
considered in the draft EIS.
    You may submit your comments and materials by one of the methods 
listed in the ADDRESSES section.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we use in preparing the EIS document, will be available 
for public inspection by appointment, during normal business hours, at 

Public Availability of Comments

    Written comments we receive become part of the public record 
associated with this action. Before including your address, phone 
number, email address, or other personal identifying information in 
your comments, you should be aware that your entire comment--including 
your personal identifying information--may be made publicly available 
at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your 
personal identifying information from public review, we cannot 
guarantee that we will be able to do so.

Scoping Meetings

    See DATES for the date and time of our public meeting. The purpose 
of scoping meetings is to provide the public with a general 
understanding of the background of the proposed HCP and activities it 
would cover, alternative proposals under consideration for the draft 
EIS, and the Service's role and steps to be taken to develop the draft 
EIS for the proposed HCP.
    The meeting format will consist of a formal presentation of the 
proposed action, summary of the NEPA process, and presentation of oral 
comments from the public. The primary purpose of these meetings and 
public comment period is to solicit suggestions and information on the 
scope of issues and alternatives for the Service to consider when 
drafting the EIS. Written comments will be accepted at the meetings. 
Comments can also be submitted by methods listed in the ADDRESSES 
section. Once the draft EIS and proposed HCP are complete, there will 
be additional opportunity for public comment on the content of the EIS 
though a Notice of Availability.

Meeting Location Accommodations

    Please note that the meeting location is accessible to wheelchair 
users. If you require additional accommodations, please notify us at 
least one week in advance of the meeting.


    We provide this notice under section 10 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 
et seq.) and by NEPA Regulations (40 CFR 1501.7, 40 CFR 1506.6, and 

Paul McKim,
Acting Deputy Regional Director, Pacific Southwest Region, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 2011-32894 Filed 12-22-11; 8:45 am]