[Federal Register: May 30, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 104)]
[Page 34491-34493]
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 Culebra 
Northshore, S.E. for Development of a Residential Project in Culebra, 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: Culebra Northshore, S.E. (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 incidental take of hatchlings from two 
nests of the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) or the 
hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), both endangered species, 
on Tortola Beach for a period of twelve (12) years. The proposed taking 
is incidental to lighting and other activities associated with the 
development and occupation of a single-family residential project on a 
66.80-``cuerda'' (64.8-acre) lot adjacent to Tortola Beach, Culebra, 
Puerto Rico (Project). Nest surveys on this beach indicate that both 
sea turtle species use the beach for nesting, although in very low 
numbers. The Applicant's Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) describes the 
mitigation and minimization measures proposed to address the effects of 
the Project to the protected species. These measures are outlined in 
the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below. The Service has determined 
that the Applicant's proposal, including the proposed mitigation and 
minimization measures, will individually and cumulatively have a minor 
or negligible effect on the species covered in the HCP. Therefore, the 
ITP is a ``low effect'' project and would qualify as a categorical 
exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as 
provided by the Department of Interior Manual (516 DM2, Appendix 1 and 
516 DM 6, Appendix 1).
    The Service also announces the availability of the HCP and our 
determination of Categorical Exclusion for the incidental take 
application. Copies of the HCP and Service supporting documents may be 
obtained by making a request to the Regional Office (see ADDRESSES). 
Requests must be in writing to be processed. This notice is provided 
pursuant to Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act and NEPA 
regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).
    The Service specifically requests information, views, and opinions 
from the public via this notice on the Federal action. Further, the 
Service specifically solicits information regarding the adequacy of the 
HCP as measured against the Service's Permit 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. You may mail comments to the Service's Regional Office 
(see ADDRESSES). You may also comment via the internet to 
``david_dell@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 the Service 
that we have received your internet message, contact us directly at 
either telephone number listed below (see FURTHER INFORMATION). 
Finally, you may hand deliver comments to either Service office listed 
below (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 
comments. 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.

DATES: Written comments on the permit application, supporting 
documentation, and HCP should be sent to the Service's Regional Office 
(see ADDRESSES) and should be received on or before June 29, 2000.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application, supporting 
documentation, and HCP 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, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 491, Boqueron, 
Puerto Rico 00622. Written data or comments concerning the application, 
or HCP should be submitted to the Regional Office. Requests for the 
documentation must be in writing to be processed. Please reference 
permit number TE026114-0 in such comments, or in requests of the 
documents discussed herein.

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7313; or Ms. 
Marelisa Rivera, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Boqueron Field Office, 
(see ADDRESSES above), telephone 787/851-7297.

[[Page 34492]]

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Nesting grounds of the leatherback sea 
turtle are distributed world-wide. In the Caribbean, the species nests 
in French Guiana, Surinam, Guyana, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and 
Costa Rica. In the U.S. Caribbean, nesting has been reported from St. 
Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, and Puerto Rico. The U.S. Caribbean may 
support nesting by 150 to 200 adult females per year, representing the 
most significant nesting activity of this species within the United 
States. The largest concentration of nesting leatherbacks in the U.S. 
Caribbean has been documented at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, 
St. Croix, and Playa Brava and Playa Resaca on Culebra Island, Puerto 
Rico. Nesting females prefer high-energy beaches with deep and 
unobstructed access.
    The hawksbill sea turtle is found throughout the world's tropical 
waters. However, nesting within United States territory occurs in 
Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and very infrequently in Florida. 
Two important known nesting areas in the U.S. Caribbean are Mona Island 
in Puerto Rico and Buck Island Reef National Monument in St. Croix, 
U.S.Virgin Islands. The species nests on beaches all around the coast 
of Puerto Rico, but the area that receives the highest number of 
nesting activities is Mona Island, with approximately 500 nests per 
    Nesting hawksbill sea turtles prefer low energy sandy beaches with 
woody vegetation such as sea grape or saltshrub located within a few 
meters of the water line. Suitable nesting habitat can be extremely 
variable, and ranges from high energy ocean beaches to tiny pocket 
beaches only a few meters in width.
    Major threats to all sea turtle species include loss or degradation 
of nesting habitat from coastal development and beach armoring; 
disorientation or misorientation of hatchlings and females by 
artificial lighting; poaching; disease; commercial trawling, longline 
and gill net fisheries; and illegal trade, particularly in hawksbill 
    Habitat degradation associated with the project development 
(lighting, boardwalk construction, increased beach use by residents, 
use of recreational beach gear at the beach, beach cleaning operations, 
among others) may result in death or injury of sea turtle hatchlings 
from either sea turtle species, incidental to the carrying out of these 
otherwise lawful activities. Section 9 of the Act, and implementing 
regulations, prohibits taking nests of leatherback sea turtle and 
hawksbill sea turtle. Taking, in part, is defined as an activity that 
kills, injures, harms, or harasses a listed endangered or threatened 
species. Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act provides an exemption, under 
certain circumstances, to the section 9 prohibition if the taking is 
incidental to, and not the purpose of, otherwise lawful activities.
    Beach surveys at Tortola Beach indicate that both sea turtle 
species use this beach for nesting. In the last 15 years, a total of 24 
sea turtle nesting activities (3 for hawksbills and 21 for 
leatherbacks) have been reported at the Tortola Beach. Tortola Beach is 
a small pocket beach that measures approximately 90 meters long by 15 
meters wide. This beach is located in front of the proposed 45-lot 
development. Three of the lots border the beach area of Tortola.
    The HCP describes measures the Applicant will take to minimize and 
mitigate such taking resulting from the Project. To minimize impacts to 
listed species from the proposed project, the Applicant will conduct 
the following: (1) Donate/transfer to the Puerto Rico Department of 
Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) a 10 meter litoral zone 
(comprising 0.9391 cuerda or 0.91 acre) for additional setback from the 
maritime zone determined by this agency, along the beach front of the 
property; (2) a setback of 120 feet from the maritime zone will be left 
on lots 26, 27, and 29, the only three lots with beachfront property; 
(3) establish a ``central valley'' conservation easement on 5.71 
cuerdas (5.54 acres) to protect natural forests; (4) no construction 
activities such as beach armoring or beach nourishment, no mechanical 
beach clearing, no vehicle traffic or animals will be allowed on the 
beach and no beach vegetation will be removed or trimmed on the beach; 
(5) pedestrian traffic to the beach from the property and from the 
beach to the property will be directed to only one boardwalk across the 
litoral zone and sand dune area; (6) a low fence will be erected at the 
end of the maritime zone (where sand turns into hard soil) to control 
pedestrian access and stray animals; (7) no artificial lighting will be 
installed on the beach and the beach will be closed to residents from 
the property during evening hours; (8) no recreation equipment such as 
lounge chairs, toys, kayaks will be allowed to remain on the beach 
after sunset and no boating activities, no camping or fires will be 
allowed on the beach; (9) each lot will have a site-specific residence 
location and no additional land clearing will be allowed on the lot; 
(10) all houses will be designed and remain single family units with a 
maximum size residence permitted of 2,700 square feet and have a 
maximum height of 18 feet; (11) a deed restriction will be included in 
each lot to require a lighting plan to address impacts to sea turtles 
on Tortola Beach and periodic lighting surveys will be conducted and 
corrective measures will be required; (12) no street lighting on the 
roadways within the development will be installed, roads will be closed 
to the general public during evening hours to minimize vehicular 
lighting, and vehicular traffic is routed one way to minimize headlight 
glare; and (13) a deed restriction will require that each owner develop 
and implement an erosion control plan to reduce potential impacts to 
nesting habitat by eroded materials.
    To mitigate for the nests to be taken, the applicant will provide 
the following: (1) Provide educational materials regarding sea turtles 
to all owners and construct an information display board at the 
entrance of the boardwalk; (2) will encourage beach cleaning activities 
among the owners; (3) will provide trash containers for trash disposal; 
(4) turtle nesting activities will be reported, marked off-limit and 
protected until DNER personnel work the nest, and (5) will recruit and 
facilitate volunteers for sea turtle conservation projects.
    As earlier stated, the Service has determined that the HCP 
qualifies as a Categorically-Excluded, ``low-effect'' HCP as defined by 
Service's Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook (November 1996). Low-
effect HCPs are those involving: (1) Minor or negligible effects on 
federally listed and candidate species and their habitats, and (2) 
minor or negligible effects on other environmental values or resources. 
The Applicant's HCP qualifies for the following reasons:
    1. Approval of the HCP would result in minor or negligible effects 
on the leatherback sea turtle and hawksbill sea turtle, and their 
nesting habitats. The Service does not anticipate significant direct or 
cumulative effects on these species resulting from the construction of 
the Project.
    2. Approval of the HCP would not have adverse effect on known 
geographic, historic or cultural sites, or involve unique or unknown 
environmental risks.
    3. Approval of the HCP would not result in any significant adverse 
effects on public health or safety.
    4. The project does not require compliance with Executive Order 
11988 (Floodplain Management), Executive Order 11990 (Protection of 
Wetlands), or the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, nor does it 
threaten to violate a Federal,

[[Page 34493]]

State, local or tribal law or requirement imposed for the protection of 
the environment.
    5. Approval of the HCP would not establish a precedent for future 
action or represent a decision in principle about future actions with 
potentially significant environmental effects.
    The Service has therefore determined that approval of the HCP 
qualifies as a categorical exclusion under NEPA, as provided by the 
Department of the Interior Manual (516 DM 2, Appendix 1 and 516 DM 6, 
Appendix 1). No further NEPA determination will therefore be prepared.
    The Service will evaluate the HCP and comments submitted thereon to 
determine whether the application meets the requirements of section 
10(a) of the Act. If it is determined that those requirements are met, 
an ITP will be issued for the incidental take of hatchlings from two 
nests of the leatherback sea turtle or hawksbill sea turtle during a 
period of 12 years. 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 
consultation, in combination with the above findings, will be used in 
the final analysis to determine whether or not to issue the ITP.

    Dated: May 22, 2000.
H. Dale Hall,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 00-13388 Filed 5-26-00; 8:45 am]