[Federal Register: June 19, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 118)]
[Page 37996-37997]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of a Draft Environmental Assessment and Preliminary 
Finding of No Significant Impact, and Receipt of an Application for an 
Incidental Take Permit for a Proposed Commercial Development Called 
Bella Vista Retail Center Located in Highlands County, Florida

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


    The 81 + 3 Florida, Inc. company (Applicant) requests an incidental 
take permit (ITP) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973 (U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), as amended (Act). The 
Applicant anticipates taking 20.7 acres of sand skink (Neoseps 
reynoldsi) and bluetail mole skink (Eumeces egregius lividus) habitat, 
incidental to the development of a commercial retail center in section 
23, Township 34 South, Range 28 East, Sebring, Highlands County, 
Florida. The Applicant proposes to mitigate the taking of skinks 
through fee title acquisition of at least 41.4 acres of suitable skink 
habitat within the range of the species.
    Land clearing, infrastructure installation and commercial 
construction will destroy 20.7 acres of habitat known to be occupied by 
sand and bluetail mole skinks. A more detailed description of the 
mitigation and minimization measures to address the effects of the 
Project to the protected species are outlined in the Applicant's 
Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), the Service's draft Environmental 
Assessment (EA), and in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below.
    The Service also announces the availability of a draft EA and HCP 
for the incidental take application. Copies of the draft 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, as amended (NEPA). The preliminary Finding of No Significant 
Impact (FONSI) is based on information contained in the draft 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 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 Service's draft EA. Further, the Service is 
specifically soliciting information regarding the adequacy of the HCP 
as measured against the Service's 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 permit number TE026107-0 in such 
comments, or in requests of the documents discussed herein. 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

[[Page 37997]]

organizations or businesses, available for public inspection in their 

DATES: Written comments on the ITP application, draft EA, and HCP 
should be sent to the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and 
should be received on or before July 19, 2000.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application, HCP, and draft 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, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Post Office Box 2676, Vero Beach, Florida 32961-2676.

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7313, facsimile: 
404/679-7081; or Mr. Mike Jennings, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, South 
Florida Ecosystem Office, Vero Beach, Florida (see ADDRESSES above), 
telephone: 561/562-3909.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Sand skinks and bluetail mole skinks are 
restricted to dry, sandy uplands (xeric communities) in southcentral 
peninsular Florida. These areas are predominated by deep, well drained 
soils, and drought tolerant plant species. Sand and bluetail mole 
skinks are found primarily in sandy areas within xeric uplands. Sand 
skinks are mostly found on the soil surface or under leaf litter. 
Bluetail mole skinks are fossorial and remain underground throughout 
their life.
    Due to its high elevation and tendency to remain dry, historic 
skink habitat was favored by early settlers and subsequently attracted 
urban and agricultural development. Human settlement has resulted in an 
estimated 85 percent loss of xeric communities, which has likely 
adversely affected the distribution and numbers of sand and bluetail 
mole skinks.
    Quantification of historic or current population size and 
distribution of skinks is difficult because these species are difficult 
to survey; they are small and hard to locate due to their semi-(sand 
skink) to completely fossorial (bluetail mole skink) habits. Although 
widespread, definitive surveys are usually not practicable for these 
species, existing soils data can provide insight into the distribution 
of suitable habitat and the subsequent loss of such habitat to 
anthropogenic causes.
    Much of the historic skink habitat occurred along a 100-mile 
stretch of parallel ancient dunes that were situated on a north-south 
axis from Orange to Highlands counties. This area is exposed to 
frequent lightning strikes which resulted in the evolution of plant and 
animal species that became dependant on frequent fires to persist. Due 
to the effects of urbanization and agricultural development, historic 
skink habitat has been reduced in size and has become fragmented. As a 
consequence of habitat fragmentation, much of the remaining habitat for 
skinks is poor quality due to the lack of periodic fires brought on by 
post-settlement fire exclusion.
    Sand skinks and bluetail mole skinks are currently known from 115 
and 36 locations, respectively, including the Project site. Issuance of 
the Permit to the Applicant would result in a loss of 0.9 percent (\1/
115\) of the known localities of sand skinks and 2.8 percent (\1/36\) 
of known localities of bluetail mole skinks. These figures probably 
overestimate the percentage loss since not all potentially suitable 
habitat throughout the range of these species has been surveyed. The 
effects that loss of sand skinks and habitat within the Project site 
will have on the local population of skinks is not known.
    Construction of the Project's infrastructure and facilities will 
result in death of, or injury to, sand skinks and bluetail mole skinks, 
incidental to the carrying out of these otherwise lawful activities. 
Habitat alteration associated with the proposed commercial development 
will reduce the availability of feeding, nesting, and sheltering 
habitat for these species.
    The draft EA considers the environmental consequences of two action 
alternatives, both of which would require issuance of an ITP. The 
preferred alternative would affect about 20.7 acres suitable sand and 
bluetail mole skink habitat. The reduced take alternative would affect 
about 15 acres of suitable sand and bluetail mole skink habitat. The no 
action alternative (not issue the ITP) may result in loss of habitat 
for federally listed species described above and exposure of the 
Applicant under Section 9 of the Act. The proposed action alternative 
is issuance of the ITP according to the HCP as submitted and described 
above. Under the proposed alternative, two mitigation alternatives 
exists, both of which will result in the acquisition, protection, and 
management suitable skink habitat off-site. Habitat acquisition and 
management will be achieved through one of two mitigation alternatives; 
fee-simple purchase of a minimum of 41.7 acres of suitable skink 
habitat or deposit of sufficient funds into an escrow account to 
acquire and manage a minimum of 41.7 acres of suitable skink habitat. 
Under the first mitigation alternative, the Permittee would purchase 
habitat adjacent to Archbold Biological Station (ABS) (a non-profit 
conservation and research facility in southern Highlands County) and 
subsequently transfer title of such lands to ABS. ABS would assume 
responsibility for perpetual management of the acquired habitat. Under 
the second mitigation alternative, the Permittee would escrow 
sufficient funds to acquire and manage a minimum of 41.7 acres of 
suitable skink habitat adjacent to ABS. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) 
would act as intermediary in this case and use the escrowed funds to 
acquire suitable skink habitat and subsequently convey fee-title of 
acquired habitat to ABS. A conservation easement of the acquired lands 
would also be developed between TNC and ABS.
    As stated above, the Service has made a preliminary determination 
that the issuance of the ITP is not a major Federal action 
significantly effecting the quality of the human environment within the 
meaning of Section 102(2)(C) of NEPA. This preliminary determination 
may be revised due to public comment received in response to this 
notice and is based on information contained in the draft 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: June 12, 2000.
Sam D. Hamilton,
Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 00-15369 Filed 6-16-00; 8:45 am]