[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 142 (Wednesday, July 24, 2013)]
[Pages 44586-44588]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-17772]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R8-ES-2013-N133; FF08E00000-FXES11120800000F2-123-F2]

Draft Environmental Assessment and Proposed Cross Valley 
Transmission Line Habitat Conservation Plan, Tulare County, California

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; receipt of permit application, draft 
environmental assessment, proposed habitat conservation plan: request 
for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), have 
prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) under the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA), in response to an 
application from Southern California Edison (the Applicant) for an 
incidental take permit (ITP) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The application 
addresses the proposed incidental take (take) of 13 proposed Covered 
Species within a 3,385-acre Permit Area during a proposed permit term 
of 30 years. The Applicant has prepared the draft Cross Valley 
Transmission Line Habitat Conservation Plan (Cross Valley Line HCP) 
(HCP) to describe and implement a conservation plan that will minimize 
and mitigate environmental effects associated with the construction, 
operation, and maintenance of the Cross Valley Loop Transmission Line, 
an electrical transmission project in central Tulare County, 
California. We also announce a 45-day public comment period on the 
permit application, including the draft EA and the proposed HCP. 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: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
September 9, 2013.

ADDRESSES: Please address written comments to Nina Bicknese, Senior 
Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 
Cottage Way, W-2605, Sacramento, CA 95825. Alternatively, you may send 
comments by facsimile to (916) 414-6713.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mike Thomas, Chief, Conservation 
Planning Division, or Eric Tattersall, Deputy Assistant Field 
Supervisor, at the address shown above or at (916) 414-6600 
(telephone). If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf, 
please call the Federal Information Relay Service at (800) 877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We publish this notice under the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321-4347 et 
seq.; NEPA), and its implementing regulations in the Code of Federal 
Regulations (CFR) at 40 CFR 1500-1508, as well as in compliance with 
section 10(c) of the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531-1544 et 
seq.; Act).

Availability of Documents

    You may obtain copies of the draft EA, the draft HCP, and the 
permit application from the individuals in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT, or from the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office Web site at 
http://www.fws.gov/sacramento. Copies of these documents are also 
available for public inspection, by appointment, during regular 
business hours, at the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (see 

Background Information

    Section 9 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531-1544 et seq.) and Federal 
regulations prohibit the taking of fish and wildlife species listed as 
endangered or threatened under section 4 of the Act. Take of federally 
listed fish or wildlife is defined under the Act as to harass, harm, 
pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect listed 
species, or attempt to engage in such conduct. The term ``harass'' is 
defined in the regulations as to carry out actions that create the 
likelihood of injury to listed species 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). The 
term ``harm'' is defined in the regulations as significant habitat 
modification or degradation that results in death or injury of listed 
species by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, 
including breeding, feeding, or sheltering (50 CFR 17.3). However, 
under specified circumstances, the Service may issue permits that allow 
the take of federally listed 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, respectively. Section 
10(a)(1)(B) of the Act contains provisions for issuing such incidental 
take permits to non-Federal entities for the take of endangered and 
threatened species, provided the following criteria are met:
    1. The taking will be incidental;
    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 HCP 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.
    The draft HCP addresses, and the Applicant seeks incidental take 
authorization for, 13 species, including 10 animal species (4 federally 
endangered, 3 federally threatened, and 3 unlisted) and 3 plant species 
(2 federally threatened, 1 unlisted). The proposed permit would provide 
take authorization for all species identified in the draft HCP as a 
Covered Species. Take authorized for listed Covered Species would be 
effective upon permit issuance. Take authorization for currently 
unlisted Covered Species would become effective concurrent with 
listing, should the species be listed under the Act during the proposed 
30-year Permit Term.
    The proposed ITP would include the following nine federally listed 
species: the threatened vernal pool fairy shrimp (Branchinecta lynchi), 
the endangered vernal pool tadpole shrimp (Lepidurus packardi), the 
threatened valley elderberry longhorn beetle (Desmocerus californicus 
dimorphus), the threatened California tiger salamander (Ambystoma 
californiense), the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher 
(Empidonax traillii extimus), the endangered least Bell's vireo (Vireo 
bellii pusillus), the endangered San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis 
mutica), the threatened Hoover's spurge (Chamaesyce hooveri), and the 
threatened San Joaquin Valley Orcutt grass (Orcuttia inaequalis). The 
unlisted species proposed for coverage under the draft HCP are the 
western spadefoot toad (Spea hammondii), the burrowing owl (Athene 
cunicularia), the little willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii 
brewsteri), and the spiny-sepaled button-celery (Eryngium 
    Implementation of Covered Activities described in the proposed HCP 

[[Page 44587]]

construct a new 23-mile-long double-circuit 220 kV transmission line 
(including construction of 90 new 160-foot tubular-steel poles [TSPs] 
and 16 new 12-foot lattice steel towers [LSTs]); preparation of 
temporary work areas to allow for equipment access, use, and staging 
during construction; access road construction; improvements to existing 
access roads; use of existing laydown yards; and activities associated 
with future operation and maintenance of the new transmission line.
    Specifically, the Applicant is requesting coverage for incidental 
take resulting from the following seven categories of construction 
Covered Activities:
    (1) operation and restoration of existing laydown yards;
    (2) construction of new dirt access roads;
    (3) improvement and repair of existing access roads;
    (4) construction of transmission line structures (TSPs and LSTs);
    (5) stringing of electrical conductors (electrical wires) and the 
optical ground wire on the transmission line structures;
    (6) installation of Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan best 
management practices; and
    (7) implementation of avoidance and minimization measures.
    In addition, the Applicant is also requesting coverage for 
incidental take resulting from the following 13 categories of operation 
and maintenance Covered Activities that will be implemented over the 
proposed 30-year Permit term:
    (1) the aerial inspections of the operational Cross Valley Loop 
Transmission Line using helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft;
    (2) routine transmission line ground patrols;
    (3) optical ground wire testing;
    (4) minor and major repairs to TSPs and LSTs;
    (5) minor and major repairs or replacement of conductors and the 
optical ground wire;
    (6) insulator washing;
    (7) replacement of one TSP or one LST structure;
    (8) repair/replacement of bird flight diverters;
    (9) access road maintenance;
    (10) access road drainage-structure maintenance or replacement;
    (11) installation of Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan best 
management practices during maintenance actions;
    (12) tree pruning for vegetation management; and
    (13) brush and weed abatement for vegetation management.
    The proposed Covered Activities would result in the permanent or 
temporary disturbance of up to 199 acres of existing landcover within 
the proposed 3,385-acre Permit Area. The proposed Permit Area comprises 
natural and anthropomorphic landcover types, including annual 
grassland, vernal pools, riparian woodland, agricultural fields, 
orchards, vineyards, irrigated pastures, urban developments, and rural 
residential developments. Covered Activity impacts to existing 
landcover types were used as a surrogate to identify maximum potential 
impacts to species-suitable habitat and the potential take of each 
Covered Species. The proposed HCP conservation strategy prescribes 
conditions for implementing each Covered Activity that avoid or 
minimize potential take of the Covered Species, and identifies 
compensatory mitigation for species effects that cannot be avoided.

National Environmental Policy Act Compliance

    Our proposed permit issuance decision triggers compliance with 
NEPA, which requires that environmental information be available to 
public officials and citizens before Federal decisions are made and 
before Federal actions are taken. We prepared the draft EA to inform 
the public of the proposed HCP; our proposed permit action; 
alternatives to that action; the environmental impacts of the 
alternatives including the proposed action; any adverse environmental 
effects that cannot be avoided; any irreversible commitments of 
resources, and to address comments received during early public scoping 

Alternatives in the Draft Environmental Assessment

    The Service is providing notice of the availability of our draft 
EA, which evaluates the impacts of the Proposed Action Alternative as 
well as a No Action Alternative.
    No Action Alternative: Under the No Action Alternative, we would 
not issue an incidental take permit to the Applicant, the Applicant 
would not implement an HCP, and the Cross Valley Loop Transmission Line 
could not be constructed. The No Action Alternative would not address 
the Applicant's underlying electrical needs or existing substation 
electrical-overload problems, and would not achieve the Applicant's 
objectives in proposing a Cross Valley Loop Transmission Line.
    Proposed Action Alternative: Under the Proposed Action Alternative, 
we would issue an incidental take permit for the Applicant's proposed 
HCP, which includes the Covered Activities and the conservation 
measures described above in Background Information, and described with 
more detail in the Applicant's Cross Valley Line HCP document.
    Other Action Alternatives: Under Department of the Interior 
regulations for implementation of NEPA (43 CFR Part 46), when there are 
no unresolved conflicts about a proposed action with respect to 
alternative uses of the available resources, an environmental 
assessment need only consider the proposed action, and does not need to 
consider additional action alternatives, pursuant to section 102(2)(E) 
of NEPA. The Service has determined that the Proposed Action under 
consideration meets these requirements. Consequently, no additional 
action alternatives are analyzed in our draft EA.

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 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 subject 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; and
    6. Identification of any other environmental issues that should be 
considered with regard to the proposed transmission line and permit 
    You may submit your comments and materials by one of the methods 
listed above in ADDRESSES. Comments and materials we receive, as well 
as supporting documentation we used in preparing the EA document, will 
be available for public inspection by appointment, during normal 
business hours, at our office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, or other personal 
identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your 

[[Page 44588]]

comment--including your personal identifying information--might 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.


    We provide this notice pursuant to section 10(c) of the Act and the 
NEPA public-involvement regulations (40 CFR 1500.1(b), 1500.2(d), and 

Next Steps

    We will evaluate the permit application, including the Applicant's 
HCP, and comments we receive to determine whether the application meets 
the requirements of section 10(a) of the Act. If the requirements are 
met, we will issue a permit to the Applicant for the incidental take of 
the 13 Covered Species from the implementation of the Covered 
Activities described in the Cross Valley Line HCP. We will make the 
final permit decision no sooner than September 23, 2013.

    Dated: July 17, 2013.
Alexandra Pitts,
Regional Director, Pacific Southwest Region, Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 2013-17772 Filed 7-23-13; 8:45 am]