[Federal Register: February 16, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 32)]
[Page 7883-7887]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of an Environmental Assessment, Preliminary Finding 
of No Significant Impact, and Receipt of an Application for an 
Incidental Take Permit by The St. Joe Company for Development of Two 
Residential/Commercial Projects on its Lands in Walton County, Florida

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: The St. Joe Company (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 (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.), as amended. The permit would apply to two individual 
land holdings of the Applicant in Walton County, Florida. At the first 
site, The Villages at Seagrove, south parcel, the applicant has a total 
of 16.4 acres of designated critical habitat for the federally 
endangered Choctawhatchee beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus allophrys) 
that is currently occupied by the species. The other site, Camp Creek, 
has habitat suitable for Choctawhatchee beach mice but is currently 
unoccupied by beach mice. This ITP would authorize take of 4.65 acres 
of designated Choctawhatchee beach mouse critical habitat, 0.5 acre of 
suitable but currently unoccupied habitat, and secondary impacts 
related to human occupancy and use of the two developments. The Service 
has evaluated the proposed project plans and determined that, with the 
incorporation and implementation of appropriate conservation measures, 
the projects would not likely adversely affect the threatened 
loggerhead (Caretta caretta), endangered green (Chelonia mydas), and 
endangered leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtles.
    The Service also announces the availability of the draft EA and 
Plan for the incidental take application. Copies of the draft EA and/or 
Plan may be obtained by making a request to the Regional Office (see 
ADDRESSES). Requests must be in writing to be

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processed. This notice also advises the public that the Service has 
made a preliminary determination that issuing the Permit 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 EA and Plan. 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 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, including the 
identification of any other aspects of the human environment not 
already identified in the Service's EA. Further, the Service 
specifically solicits information regarding the adequacy of the Plan 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, EA, and HCP should 
be sent to the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be 
received on or before March 17, 2000.

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 Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Panama City Field Office, 1612 June Avenue, Panama 
City, Florida 32405. Written data or comments concerning the 
application, EA, or HCP should be submitted to the Regional Office. 
Requests for the documentation must be in writing to be processed. 
Please reference permit number TE020830-0 in such comments, or in 
requests of the documents discussed herein.

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7313; or Ms. 
Lorna Patrick, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Panama City Field Office, 
(see ADDRESSES above), telephone 850/769-0552.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Choctawhatchee beach mouse is one of 
five subspecies of the oldfield mouse that inhabit coastal dune 
communities along the northern Gulf Coast of Florida and Alabama. The 
Choctawhatchee beach mouse was listed along with the Perdido Key 
(Peromyscus polionotus trissyllepsis) and Alabama beach mice 
(Peromyscus polionotus ammobates) as an endangered species under the 
federal Endangered Species Act in 1985 (50 FR 23872, June 6, 1985). It 
is also listed as an endangered species by the State of Florida. Loss 
of habitat from coastal development is considered to be the main factor 
for the decline of beach mice.
    Choctawhatchee beach mice, like other beach mice, are nocturnal and 
forage for food throughout the dune system. Optimal Choctawhatchee 
beach mouse habitat is currently thought to comprise a heterogeneous 
mix of interconnected habitats including primary, secondary, scrub 
dunes and interdunal areas. They feed primarily on seeds and fruits of 
bluestem Schizachrium maritimum, sea oats Uniola paniculata, and 
evening primrose Oenothera humifusa; however, insects are also an 
important component of their diet.
    Critical habitat was designated for the Choctawhatchee beach mouse 
at the time of listing (50 CFR Sec. 17.95). Designated critical habitat 
for the Choctawhatchee beach mouse consists of four separate areas in 
Walton and Bay counties, Florida, totaling 819 acres along 13.2 miles 
of Gulf of Mexico shoreline. These areas are: (1) Shell Island in Bay 
County, comprising 332 acres along 7.7 miles jointly managed by the 
Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), Florida Park 
Service as part of St. Andrews State Recreation Area (SRA) (205 acres--
includes private inholdings), and by the U.S. Air Force, Tyndall Air 
Force Base (127 acres); (2) St. Andrews SRA, mainland, west of the St. 
Andrew Bay inlet, 60 acres along 1.1 miles; (3) Grayton Beach State 
Recreation Area (SRA) main unit, managed by FDEP, Florida Park Service 
in Walton County consists of 67 acres along 1.7 miles; and (4) Topsail 
Hill State Preserve managed by FDEP, Florida Park Service in Walton 
County, Florida, has 200 acres along 2.7 miles. Critical habitat 
extends onto private lands off the eastern boundary of Grayton Beach 
SRA, 31.4 acres (St. Joe Company, south parcel and development of 
Seaside) and adjacent to Topsail Hill State Preserve, west boundary, 24 
acres (Four-Mile Village/Sierra Club/Coffeen Preserve) and east 
boundary, 9.63 acres (Stallworth Preserve and Hazelton property). 
Critical habitat in all areas extends 500 ft landward from the mean 
high tide line. Public lands account for 91 percent of designated 
critical habitat.
    The historic range of the Choctawhatchee beach mouse extended from 
the East Pass of Choctawhatchee Bay in Okaloosa County east through 
Walton County to Shell Island in Bay County. Approximately 99.8 percent 
of the lands currently known to be occupied by Choctawhatchee beach 
mice are public lands. For the Choctawhatchee beach mouse, three 
``populations'' are currently in existence: Topsail Hill State Preserve 
(and adjacent eastern and western private lands), Shell Island 
(includes Tyndall Air Force Base and St. Andrew SRA-with private 
inholdings), and Grayton Beach SRA, main unit (and adjacent eastern 
private lands). Approximately 92 percent of habitat ``available'' 
(large enough to support a population or adjacent to a population) for 
Choctawhatchee beach mouse are public lands. A current conservative 
total population estimate would be in

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the range from 500 to 700 Choctawhatchee beach mice. Private lands 
within or adjacent to designated critical habitat provide support for 
the recovery of the Choctawhatchee beach mouse. These lands are 
available for population dispersal and food source during and after 
severe weather events.
    The Applicant, The St. Joe Company, proposes to implement 
conservation measures to benefit the Choctawhatchee beach mouse for 
both their proposed developments. Avoidance, minimization, and on-site 
and off-site mitigation include the following:
    1. A monitoring program for Choctawhatchee beach mice on The 
Villages at Seagrove, south parcel will be implemented for 5 years.
    2. Restoration of the dune system at The Villages at Seagrove, 
south parcel. To restore the dunes: (a) Sand will be brought in and 
placed along the base of the primary dunes; (b) sand fence will be 
installed; (c) sea oats and panic grass will be planted in the primary 
dune restoration area; (d) the historic grade will be reestablished and 
sea oats and palmetto-oak scrub plant species will be planted as 
appropriate; (e) restoration areas will be protected from pedestrian 
traffic; and (f) the restoration work will be maintained under a 
prescriptive management program.
    3. Protection, management, and maintenance of remaining beach mouse 
habitat at both developments.
    4. The Applicant will provide consent to allow the Service or FDEP 
to reintroduce Choctawhatchee beach mice onto the Camp Creek site in 
habitat suitable for Beach mice but currently unoccupied.
    5. Covenants and restrictions will be placed on both entire 
    6. All covenants and restrictions shall be further stipulated that 
no changes shall be made that would cause noncompliance with the 
requirements of the ITP.
    7. Protection, management, and maintenance of 80.4 acres (32.5 
hectares) of beach mouse habitat at the Camp Creek site.
    8. Installation of split rail or similar fence between the Camp 
Creek site and State Park property to control unauthorized pedestrian 
access to dune habitats at both areas.
    9. All landscaping will be done with native vegetation at both 
    10. No invasive or exotic species will be planted at either 
development and will be removed whenever found at both developments.
    11. Sea turtle compatible lighting will be included in the project 
design for both projects.
    12. Control of litter and trash including the use of wildlife-proof 
trash receptacles will be installed and maintained at both 
    13. Control of non-native predator species such as coyote, red fox, 
house mice, and feral and free-ranging domestic pets (cats and dogs) 
will be implemented at both developments. The use of pesticides will be 
limited to those that will not impact the Choctawhatchee beach mouse.
    14. All domestic pets will be required to be on a leash when 
outside at both developments.
    15. Recreation and beach equipment (beach chairs, umbrellas, and 
surf boards, etc.) will be removed from the beach and stored in a 
centralized location at night during the sea turtle nesting season (May 
1 through October 31) at both developments.
    16. Access to the beach from both developments will be controlled 
and directed on the dune walkovers. Fences, signs, and information 
kiosks will be used to direct pedestrian traffic along the walkovers 
and provide information on the sensitivity of the dune habitat and 
associated coastal plants and animals at both developments.
    17. During construction, impacts will be avoided or minimized at 
both sites by: (a) Habitat protected by placing sediment barriers and 
flagging to restrict access and avoid impacts; (b) top-down 
construction of dune walkovers and boardwalks over primary, secondary, 
and scrub dune habitats; (c) storage of materials at appropriate 
staging sites and outside or adjacent to sensitive habitats; (d) 
construction site to be kept clean and free of debris in areas of 
sensitive habitats; (e) limits of disturbance from construction grading 
will be indicated on all building plans and a buffer established and 
revegetated with native species after construction, if needed; (f) 
signs indicating the habitat protection and prohibition of disturbance 
including penalty for violation will be posted at 100 foot intervals; 
(g) periodic inspections will be performed to verify that the 
protection is being implemented correctly; and (h) these requirements 
will be in the general contractor's contract.
    18. An environmental education program will be developed for the 
residents and visitors of the development at both sites. The program 
will emphasize the coastal area and the listed species that occur 
there. The program will include the development of a brochure, kiosk, 
and appropriate signs.
    19. Enforcement of construction boundary violations (bulldozer 
activity through a fence, indirect damage, such as slope failure in the 
construction area across the construction boundary, erosion, or 
unauthorized vehicle activity) at both sites by: (a) Notification of 
the Service; (b) termination of work; (c) preparation and submission of 
a damage report; (d) restoration of damaged area; and (e) return to 
work once these steps have been completed. Enforcement action will be 
taken against a property owner regardless of the actual agent of the 
damage in order to accelerate abatement and remediation and because 
there is a direct link between the property owner and the ITP.
    20. Annual reports submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service for 
the duration of the ITP (30 years).
    21. Assurance for legal, financial, and future management 
responsibilities for implementing the HCP and ITP are to be met by 
property assessments on individual property owners. The home owners' 
association will administer the program. After the issuance of the ITP 
the Applicant will produce legally binding covenants and restrictions 
to implement the HCP and ITP. The Applicant will cover the cost of the 
monitoring program and the annual reports until the homeowner's 
association is established and assumes the administrative and funding 
responsibilities of the program.
    22. To address the possibility of unforeseen circumstances, the 
Applicant will work with the Service to determine and resolve issues or 
concerns as appropriate. If either the Applicant or the Service becomes 
aware of situations that could cause unforeseen incidental take they 
will contact the other to address issues as needed.
    The EA considers the environmental consequences of three 

Alternative A

    No Action. This alternative would avoid the taking of any listed 
species at either development area. Thus, the no action alternative 
would have no direct impact on listed species in the area south of 
Highway 30A. However, the absence of a management plan for the site 
could result in adverse indirect impacts to and subsequent loss of 
listed species from the critical habitat area as a result of adjacent 
development and associated problems of unauthorized human access and 
disturbance. Adjacent development will pose problems such as feral and 
free-ranging cats, house mice, and other animals which may prey upon or 
compete with the Choctawhatchee beach mouse on the project area as well 
as unauthorized

[[Page 7886]]

beach access on the property which has degraded the dune habitats. 
Without management, preservation of the critical habitat area alone is 
not likely to protect listed species such as the Choctawhatchee beach 
mouse and other species such as nesting sea turtles, and shorebirds. 
Under the no action alternative, no effort would be made by the 
Applicant to conserve, restore, or enhance habitat for the 
Choctawhatchee beach mouse or other listed species in the coastal 
portion of the development.

Alternative B

    At both developments the Applicant has committed to implement 
conservation measures including controlled beach access, dune habitat 
restoration and protection, control of Choctawhatchee beach mouse 
predators and competitors, monitoring of the onsite beach mouse 
population, sea turtle compatible lighting and beach management, trash 
and refuse control. In addition, the Applicant provided consent for the 
Service or Florida Department of Environmental Protection to 
reintroduce Choctawhatchee beach mice onto the second property to be 
developed that contains 80.4 acres of habitat suitable for beach mice.
    The Applicant in concept has provided for the necessary 
conservation measures and mitigation to meet the biological goals of 
the incidental take permit issuance. However, because (1) additional 
conservation measures are needed to minimize impacts and (2) because of 
uncertain annual funding for both our agency and the Florida Department 
of Environmental Protection, assurance can not be provided that a new 
population could be established in a timely fashion. Thus, the 
Service's biological goal of minimizing impacts and increasing numbers 
of the Choctawhatchee beach mouse would not be met.

Alternative C

(Proposed Action)

    At both developments the Applicant has committed to implement 
conservation measures including controlled beach access, dune habitat 
restoration and protection, control of Choctawhatchee beach mouse 
predators and competitors, monitoring of the onsite beach mouse 
population, sea turtle compatible lighting and beach management, trash 
and refuse control. In addition, the Applicant committed to funding the 
reintroduction of Choctawhatchee beach mice onto the second property 
that contains 80.4 acres of habitat suitable for beach mice. In 
addition, the Applicant has committed to incorporating additional 
conservation measures that further reduce impacts to the Choctawhatchee 
beach mouse. These measures include the following:
    1. The Applicant shall be responsible for conducting or funding 
monitoring of the Choctawhatchee beach mouse population at The Villages 
at Seagrove, south parcel for the life of the ITP (30 years) unless 
approved otherwise by the Service.
    2. At least one week prior to the land clearing on The Villages at 
Seagrove, south parcel, trapping within the 4.65 acres will be 
conducted by the Applicant to capture Choctawhatchee beach mouse. The 
Choctawhatchee beach mouse will be relocated to the Grayton Beach State 
Recreation Area main unit. The Applicant will be responsible for 
obtaining all applicable state and federal permission or permits to 
conduct this activity.
    3. The Applicant will conduct or fund reintroduction of the Camp 
Creek project site within one year of issuance of a plan provided by 
the Service. Choctawhatchee beach mouse from Topsail Hill State 
Preserve will be the source of Choctawhatchee beach mouse for the 
reintroduction provided adequate numbers exist. Monitoring of the 
reintroduced population shall be completed by the Applicant for 5 years 
with consent for the Service, FDEP, or Florida Fish and Wildlife 
Conservation Commission (FWC) to continue the population 
supplementation and monitoring for the life of the ITP.
    4. The following changes or additions to the dune restoration plan 
will be made: (a) All vegetation planting shall be completed by May 1; 
(b) irrigation of planted dune vegetation will be by backpack only; (c) 
all dune restoration material will meet State of Florida requirements 
for beach quality material; and (d) all fence will be installed 
according to State of Florida sea turtle compatible requirements.
    5. The Walton County beach access shall consist, at a minimum, of 
one dune walkover constructed to allow natural formation of the 
primary, secondary, and scrub dunes. The walkover shall be completed by 
the time development of The Villages at Seagrove, south parcel site is 
also completed.
    6. All landscaping within designated critical habitat of the 
Choctawhatchee beach mouse on The Villages at Seagrove, south parcel 
shall be in accordance with the Walton County Coastal Dune Vegetation 
list to be included in the ITP.
    7. All trash receptacles on The Villages at Seagrove, south parcel 
(including the Walton County beach access) and Camp Creek shall be 
permanent, with secure lids, and predator proof.
    8. No lights shall be permitted seaward of the Coastal Construction 
Control Line (CCCL) at both developments.
    9. All structure and associated facility lighting on the seaward 
and western portion of The Villages at Seagrove, south parcel and Camp 
Creek site shall be kept to a minimum for security and safety purposes 
only and be sea turtle compatible. No lighting in these areas shall be 
used for decorative landscaping purposes. This will be handled under an 
adaptive management approach with the Service and the Applicant working 
together to finalize the lighting plans.
    10. All construction on the beach for both developments will be 
conducted outside the turtle nesting season (May 1 through October 31) 
or in accordance with a CCCL permit issued by the State of Florida.
    11. All covenants and restrictions will be further stipulated that 
no changes shall be made that would cause noncompliance with the 
requirements of the ITP.
    Therefore, the biological goal for issuing the ITP has been met by 
providing a net conservation benefit for the Choctawhatchee beach mouse 
through: (1) Minimization of onsite impacts by siting of structures and 
implementation of conservation measures at both developments; (2) 
maintenance of a continuum of critical habitat (primary dune, oak 
scrub, and palmetto scrub) within and contiguous with the adjacent 
public and private lands; and (3) increasing the number of 
Choctawhatchee beach mice.
    As stated above, the Service has made a preliminary determination 
that the issuance of 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 NEPA. This preliminary information may 
be revised due to public comment received in response to this notice 
and is based on information contained in the EA and HCP. An excerpt 
from the EA reflecting the Service's finding on the application is 
provided below:
    Based on the analysis conducted by the Service, it has been 
determined that:
    1. Issuance of an ITP will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of 
survival and recovery of the affected species in the wild.
    2. Issuance of an ITP will not appreciably diminish the value of 
critical habitat for both the survival and recovery of the species
    3. This HCP contains provisions which sufficiently minimize and

[[Page 7887]]

mitigate the impacts to the extent practicable.
    4. Issuance of an ITP would not have significant effects on the 
human environment in the project areas.
    5. The proposed take is incidental to an otherwise lawful activity.
    6. Adequate funding will be provided to implement the measures 
proposed in the submitted HCP.
    7. No adverse effects to historic sites will occur because of the 
requirement to: ``At the Camp Creek project area, the active beach dune 
areas in which sites 8WL65 and 8WL105 are located will be left in their 
natural state with the exception of dune walkover/boardwalk access to 
the beach. Archaeological monitoring shall be employed during any dune 
walkover/boardwalk construction should such occur in or near the 
recorded site areas.''
    The Service will also evaluate whether the issuance of a Section 
10(a)(1)(B) ITP complies with Section 7 of the Endangered Species 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 

Judy L. Jones,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 00-3606 Filed 2-15-00; 8:45 am]