[Federal Register: November 8, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 217)]
[Page 56564-56566]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 56564]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Receipt of an Application for an Incidental Take Permit for the 
Operation and Management of a Tourist and Residential Project, Palmas 
del Mar, Humacao, Puerto Rico

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


    Palmas del Mar Homeowners Association (PHA) (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 eggs and hatchlings from two nests of the endangered hawksbill sea 
turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) or the endangered leatherback sea 
turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) and the take of one hawksbill or 
leatherback sea turtle female in the form of abandonment of nesting 
attempts or disorientation, on the beachfronts of Beach Village Regimes 
(phases) Beach Bohio, Crescent Cove, and Crescent Beach for a period of 
ten (10) years. The proposed taking is incidental to beach cleaning 
activities, vehicular driving on the beach, use of recreational beach 
equipment, lighting, and landscaping associated with the operation and 
management of the above mentioned buildings and facilities. Nest 
surveys conducted in the area indicate that both sea turtle species use 
the beach for nesting. 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 these 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 the Interior Manual 
(516 DM2, Appendix 1 and 516 DM 6, Appendix 1).
    The Service announces the availability of the HCP for the 
incidental take application. Copies of the HCP 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 
    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 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 TE033100-0 in such 
comments. 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 CONTACT). 
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 ITP application and HCP should be sent 
to the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be received 
on or before December 10, 2001.

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 Permit), 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 TE033100-0 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), telephone 787/851-7297.

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 leatherback sea turtles 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. Nesting within the U.S. Caribbean and Southeast U.S. 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, 
USVI. The species nests on beaches all around the coast of Puerto Rico, 
but the area that receives the highest number of nesting attempts is 
Mona Island, with approximately 500 nests per year.
    Hawksbill sea turtles nest on high- and low-energy sandy beaches 
with woody vegetation such as sea grape or salt shrub located within a 
few meters of the water line. Suitable nesting habitat can be extremely 
variable, and range from high-energy ocean beaches to

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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 of hatchlings and females by artificial lighting; 
poaching; disease; commercial trawling, longline and gill net 
fisheries; and illegal trade, particularly in hawksbill products.
    Along the Humacao coast, a total of 117 leatherback nesting 
attempts and 230 hawksbill sea turtle nesting attempts have been 
documented (data collected in 1997 and 1998). Of these, 9 leatherback 
sea turtle nesting attempts and 49 hawksbill sea turtle nesting 
attempts occurred at the beachfront of the Project site buildings and 
facilities during this two-year period.
    At Palmas del Mar, Humacao, beach cleaning activities, vehicular 
traffic on the beach, use of recreational beach equipment, lighting, 
and landscaping associated with existing buildings (Beach Village 
Regimes (II-IV-V), Beach Bohio, Crescent Cove and Crescent Beach) 
without management to accommodate sea turtles, will likely result in 
death of or injury to, sea turtle eggs and hatchlings, and 
disorientation or beach abandonment by nesting adults of leatherback 
sea turtle and hawksbill sea turtle, incidental to the carrying out of 
these otherwise lawful activities. Since 1996, six incidents have been 
reported documenting hatchling disorientation caused by artificial 
lighting, destruction of nests by construction and maintenance 
activities, or disorientation of adult females by artificial lighting. 
The ITP does not address these previous incidents (which were subject 
to Law Enforcement investigation), but would serve to minimize and 
avoid the possibility of future incidental take.
    Under section 9 of the Act and its implementing regulations, 
``taking'' of endangered and threatened wildlife is prohibited. 
However, the Service, under limited circumstances, may issue permits to 
take such wildlife if the taking is incidental to and not the purpose 
of otherwise lawful activities. The Applicant has developed an HCP as 
required for their incidental take permit application.
    The HCP describes measures the Applicant will take to minimize and 
mitigate taking at the Project site. To minimize impacts to listed 
species from the operation and management of the existing tourist/
residential facilities, the Applicant will:
    1. Modify beach cleaning:
    a. Mechanical beach cleaning activities will be confined to 
daylight hours.
    b. Monitor sea turtle nesting activity and inform personnel 
responsible for cleaning the beach area about the precise location of 
nests in order to protect them and avoid damaging nests.
    c. All nests left in place will be marked to avoid effects during 
beach cleaning.
    d. Mechanical cleaning will be limited to the area between the 
approximate water edge and the previous day's high tide mark or debris 
    e. Beach cleaning equipment will not encroach upon existing 
vegetation areas.
    f. Removal of collected beach debris will occur immediately after 
the cleaning has been performed. No inorganic debris will be buried or 
stored on the beach. Organic debris will be disposed of outside the 
potential nesting area.
    2. Restrict vehicle use:
    a. The Golf Cart Agreement will include a regulation that indicates 
that the use of the vehicles on the beach is prohibited. Palmas 
Homeowners Association (PHA) will include this clause in the Licensee's 
    b. Golf carts will only be allowed along the paths parallel to the 
    c. Security will enter the beach only in case of an emergency. 
Specific areas will be designated for emergency access, only for 
official vehicles.
    3. Modify operation of recreational facilities on the beach (Beach 
    a. PHA will continue monitoring patrols to identify nesting 
    b. PHA will implement a lighting plan to substitute the High 
Pressure Sodium lights for Low Pressure Sodium lights or bug lights, 
and use of low, shielded and directed light fixtures to reduce the 
amount of light on the beach.
    c. Close open area below the Beach Bohio to avoid impacts to 
nesting in the area.
    d. Use of the Beach Bohio will be terminated, music stopped, lights 
turned off and the facility closed to the public at 12 Midnight.
    4. Regulate use of recreational beach equipment:
    Crescent Cove Condominium, Crescent Beach Condominium and Wyndham 
Hotel will remove all beach equipment from the beach by dusk. All 
equipment will be stored in a designated area landward of the beach 
    5. Regulate beach lighting:
    A comprehensive lighting plan was developed for each building and 
facilities and incorporated into the HCP. Measures include installation 
of shields, replacement of light fixtures with bollards and use of Low 
Pressure Sodium lights, among others.
    To mitigate for the nest that may be taken, the applicant will 
provide the following:
    1. Beach Cleaning:
    a. Construct an incubation cage or hatchery in a designated area to 
relocate nests at risk from erosion or poaching.
    b. Provide training to beach cleaning personnel on how to detect 
sea turtle nests and how to protect them.
    c. PHA will provide beach cleaning equipment with a rake or 
cleaning apparatus which limits penetration into the sand of not more 
than two (2) inches. Maximum tire pressure on beach cleaning equipment 
will be of 10 p.s.i.
    d. Guests will be informed by brochures or in Palmas del Mar 
Homeowners News of the efforts to preserve sea turtles in order to 
create awareness and motivate them to avoid littering the beach.
    e. The applicant will create a protocol to ensure effective 
communication between the STPL, DNER Rangers, and PHA.
    2. Beach Driving:
    a. Vegetation will be planted or barriers constructed to impede 
vehicle access from residential/tourist areas to beach areas.
    b. Signs will be posted explaining that motor vehicles and horses 
are prohibited on the beaches.
    3. Operation of recreational facilities on the beach (Beach Bohio):
    All nests at the Beach Bohio area will be relocated to the hatchery 
or incubation cage.
    4. Landscaping:
    Vegetation along the coast will be restored with plants appropriate 
to the area such as sea grapes, West Indian creeper, beach morning 
glory, palm trees, beach plum, among others. Landscaping will not 
entail the substitution of sand with soil so it does not disrupt the 
nesting process of the turtles. The height of the vegetation will be 
maintained to at least four feet in order to serve as a natural barrier 
and to filter out disruptive lights. The vegetation will also control 
erosion and provide shade.
    5. Education:
    An environmental education program will be designed especially for 
Palmas del Mar Resort. Components of the program were extensively 
discussed in the applicant's HCP.
    As stated above, the Service has made a preliminary determination 
that 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)

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of NEPA. This preliminary information may be revised due to public 
comment received in response to this notice.
    The Service will also evaluate whether the renewal of the section 
10(a)(1)(B) ITP complies with section 7 of the Act by conducting an 
intra-Service section 7 consultation. The results of this consultation, 
in combination with the above findings, will be used in the final 
analysis to determine whether or not to issue the ITP.

    Dated: October 15, 2001.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 01-28053 Filed 11-7-01; 8:45 am]