[Federal Register: November 21, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 225)]
[Page 65728-65730]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of an Environmental Assessment and Receipt of an 
Application for an Incidental Take Permit for Expansion of a Storm 
Water Retention Facility in Martin County, FL

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: Martin County Board of County Commissioners (Applicant) 
requests an incidental take permit (ITP) for a three-year term 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 impacts to 
13.5 acres of habitat occupied by the threatened Florida scrub-jay 
(Aphelocoma coerulescens) (scrub-jay) incidental to the clearing of 
land associated with the expansion of a storm water retention facility 
(Project). The proposed construction would occur in sections 23 and 24, 
Township 40 South, Range 42 East, Martin County, Florida. A description 
of the mitigation and minimization measures outlined in the Applicant's 
Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to address the effects of the Project 
to the protected species is described further in the SUPPLEMENTARY 
INFORMATION section below.
    The Service also announces the availability of an environmental 
assessment (EA) and HCP for the incidental take application. Copies of 
the 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 (NEPA), as amended. The Finding of No Significant 
Impact (FONSI) is based on information contained in the EA and HCP. The 
final determination will be made no sooner than 60 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).
    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, EA and HCP should be sent to the Service's Regional 
Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be received on or before January 20, 

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application, supporting 
documentation, EA, 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

[[Page 65729]]

Species Permits), or South Florida Ecological Services Office, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, 1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, Florida 32960-
3559. Written data or comments concerning the application, supporting 
documentation, EA, or HCP should be submitted to the Regional Office. 
Requests for the documentation must be in writing to be processed. 
Comments must be submitted in writing to be adequately considered in 
the Service's decision-making process. Please reference permit number 
TE067104-0 in such comments, or in requests of the documents discussed 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. David Dell, Regional Coordinator, 
(see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7313, facsimile: 404/679-
7081; or Ms. Sharon Tyson, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, South Florida 
Ecological Services Office (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 772/562-
3909, extension 324.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Florida scrub-jay is geographically 
isolated from other subspecies of scrub-jays found in Mexico and the 
Western United States. The scrub-jay is found exclusively in peninsular 
Florida and is restricted to xeric uplands (predominately in oak 
dominated scrub). Urban and agricultural development have resulted in 
habitat loss and fragmentation which has adversely affected the 
distribution and numbers of scrub-jays. The total estimated population 
is between 7,000 and 11,000 individuals.
    The decline in the number and distribution of scrub-jays in 
southeastern Florida has been greater than in most of regions of the 
State. Southeastern Florida has experienced tremendous urban growth in 
the past 50 years and much of the commercial and residential 
development has occurred on the dry soils or the Atlantic coastal ridge 
which historically supported scrub-jay habitat. Based on existing soils 
data, much of the historic and current scrub-jay habitat of coastal 
east Florida occurs along a narrow stretch of historic sand dunes that 
are situated on a north-south axis from Dade to Flagler County. Much of 
this area of Florida was settled early because few wetlands restricted 
urban and agricultural development. Due to the effects of urban and 
agricultural development over the past 100 years, much of the remaining 
scrub-jay habitat is now relatively small and isolated. What remains is 
largely degraded due to the exclusion of fire which is needed to 
maintain xeric uplands in conditions suitable for scrub-jays.
    Scrub-jays using the Project site and surrounding area are 
considered part of a larger complex of scrub-jays that occupy xeric 
uplands of southeastern coastal Florida. This complex of scrub-jay 
families ranges from about east-central Martin County south to 
northeastern Palm Beach County. The majority of scrub-jays within this 
complex are found in Jonathan Dickinson State Park (JDSP). The Project 
is located on the southern boundary of JDSP. The continued survival of 
scrub-jays in this area is dependent on the maintenance of suitable 
habitat and the restoration of unsuitable habitat in northeastern Palm 
Beach and southeastern Martin counties.
    JDSP monitors the scrub-jay population within the Park on a regular 
basis, but the Project site is not included in the survey area. 
Therefore, long-term data on use of the Project site by scrub-jays is 
not available. However, during the planning phase of the Project, one 
comprehensive scrub-jay survey and two one-day surveys were conducted 
to determine the extent of scrub-jay use of the Project site. Based on 
the results of these surveys, it was estimated that of the 13.5 acres 
to be impacted by the proposed Project, about 9.0 acres of occupied 
scrub-jay habitat will be destroyed. Land clearing in preparation for 
excavation will remove habitat and result in death of, or injury to, 
scrub-jays, incidental to the carrying out of these otherwise lawful 
activities. Habitat alteration associated with the proposed excavation 
will reduce the availability of feeding, nesting, and sheltering 
habitat for scrub-jays.
    The Applicant proposes several actions to minimize and mitigate 
unavoidable impacts to scrub-jays. Minimization measures include: (1) A 
31 percent decrease in the Project footprint from the originally 
proposed design; and (2) siting the Project footprint to avoid the most 
ecologically sensitive areas within the planning area, thereby avoiding 
impacts to a federally listed plant and focusing impacts to lower 
quality scrub-jay habitat. Mitigation measures include: (1) Abandonment 
of about 29.2 acres of unopened road right-of-way (ROW) within the 
Hyland Terrace subdivision plat that is now largely encompassed within 
JDSP, (2) transfer of fee title of about 3.3 acres of private land in 
the Hyland Terrace subdivision to JDSP, (3) installation of 12,941 
linear feet of fencing along the southern boundary of portions of JDSP 
to preclude off-road vehicle use and trash dumping, and (4) restoration 
of about 4.3 acres of occupied scrub-jay habitat within the Project 
    While not proposed as mitigation, the Applicant's minimization and 
mitigation measures will lead to a consolidation of ownership on the 
southern boundary of JDSP and will likely lead to more effective land 
management in this area. Due to liability issues related to private 
inholdings, JDSP was previously unable to implement planned prescribed 
fire in a 183-acre management block that included the Project site and 
an adjacent platted, but mostly undeveloped subdivision. Without 
periodic fire, this management block has become increasingly unsuitable 
for scrub-jays. With boundary consolidation, JDSP will be able to 
implement short and long-term management strategies in the 183-acre 
management block. Habitat restoration activities by JDSP in this area 
are expected to result in the enhancement of scrub-jay habitat, and 
possibly an expansion of suitable habitat for this species.
    The EA considers the environmental consequences of one action 
alternative which would require issuance of an ITP and two alternatives 
that would not require issuance of an ITP, including the no action 
alternative. Both alternatives not requiring issuance of an ITP will 
ultimately result in loss of scrub-jay habitat within the Project site 
due to habitat degradation resulting from lack of management. The no 
action alternative (i.e., the Service would not issue an ITP) may also 
expose the Applicant under Section 9 of the Act, if they proceed with 
the Project as designed. The preferred alternative would affect about 
13.5 acres of occupied scrub-jay habitat while protecting and enhancing 
about 36.8 acres of scrub habitat that may be subject to urban 
development in the future.
    The proposed action alternative is issuance of the ITP for a three-
year term according to the Plan as submitted and described above. Under 
the proposed alternative, the effect of the proposed minimization and 
mitigation measures will be the protection of about 36.8 acres of 
scrub-jay habitat adjacent to and within the Project. The mitigation 
parcels currently provide habitat for scrub-jay nesting, foraging, and 
sheltering. Conveyance of fee title of mitigation lands will result in 
a consolidated southern boundary and removal of inholdings within JDSP 
which should result in implementation of more effective land management 
actions. With management, existing conditions within JDSP are expected 
to improve over the long-term for scrub-jays in the vicinity of the 
Project site.

[[Page 65730]]

    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 Plan.
    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: November 3, 2003.
Sam D. Hamilton,
Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 03-29080 Filed 11-20-03; 8:45 am]