[Federal Register: November 21, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 225)]
[Page 65730-65732]
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 Regulation of Coastal 
Armoring by Indian River County, FL.

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice


SUMMARY: Indian River County Board of County Commissioners (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 loggerhead 
(Caretta caretta), green (Chelonia mydas), leatherback (Dermochelys 
coriacea), Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempi), and hawksbill 
(Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles, as a result of authorizing the 
construction and removal of emergency coastal armoring structures along 
eroding sections of the 22.25 miles of County coastline. Take is also 
anticipated in instances where the emergency coastal armoring 
structures are subsequently replaced by permanent armoring structures. 
The Applicant's Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) identifies the need to 
protect up to 31 upland structures with armoring resulting in about 
3,196 linear feet of shoreline impacted by construction and presence of 
armoring structures. Based on coastal erosion modeling, the Applicant 
has identified critically eroded sections of beach where armoring 
structures may be needed over the duration of the requested 30-year 
    Sea turtle nests may be impacted during construction of the 
armoring structures. In addition, once armoring structures are complete 
they may affect sea turtles by adversely modifying nesting habitat and/
or sea turtle nesting behavior. The Applicant proposes to minimize 
impacts of constructing coastal armoring through implementation of 
stringent construction timing restrictions and best management 
practices. To mitigate for unavoidable impacts, the Applicant proposes 
to implement various actions that will increase sea turtle nesting 
success. A more detailed description of the minimization and mitigation 
measures to address the effects of coastal armoring on sea turtles are 
outlined in the Applicant's HCP, and in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION 
section below.
    The Service announces the availability of the HCP and our 
Environmental Assessment (EA) for the incidental take application. 
Copies of the HCP and EA 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, 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 Species Permits), or Field 
Supervisor, 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 TE057875-0 in such comments, or in requests of 
the documents discussed herein.

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 Field Office (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 772/
562-3909 extension 324.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Florida law allows for beachfront homeowners 
to apply for permits to construct armoring structures to safeguard 
homes and other eligible structures from damage due to impending 
coastal erosion. If threats of property damage

[[Page 65731]]

are immediate, homeowners may apply for emergency authorization to 
protect their home and/or other eligible structures. Under existing 
Florida statutes, county governments may assume emergency coastal 
armoring permitting authority. To date, Indian River County is the only 
Florida county to assume this responsibility and since 1996 has issued 
six permits for emergency armoring, covering 20 upland structures. In 
the late 1990s, concerns were expressed by the Florida Department of 
Environmental Protection (FDEP) and Caribbean Conservation Corporation 
(CCC), a non-profit environmental advocacy group, that Indian River 
County's implementation of coastal armoring permitting was resulting in 
the take of sea turtles that nest throughout the shoreline of Indian 
River County. To avoid immediate litigation, the FDEP, CCC, Applicant, 
and Petitioners (affected homeowners) entered into an Interim Agreement 
that required, in part, the Applicant to develop a HCP and apply for an 
    Three species of sea turtles nest on the beaches of Indian River 
County. On average 5,894 loggerhead, 271 green, and 7 leatherback sea 
turtles annually nest along Indian River County's 22.25 miles of 
coastline. Neither hawksbill or Kemp's ridley turtles have been 
documented to nest in Indian River County. Portions of northern Indian 
River County beaches are considered critically important for loggerhead 
turtles and some of the highest concentrations of green sea turtles 
nesting in the State occur within Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge 
in southern Brevard and northern Indian River counties.
    While the mechanism remains largely unknown, nesting sea turtles 
return to their natal beaches when they are reproductively mature. Once 
a gravid female reaches her selected nesting beach, she hauls herself 
from the sea, crawls to an area above the mean high water line (in 
Indian River County this is usually at the toe of the primary dune), 
excavates an egg chamber, deposits 80 to 135 eggs (depending on the 
species), covers the egg chamber, and returns to the sea. This process 
typically takes about one and a half hours and for most species occurs 
at night. Loggerhead turtles nest from late April to mid September, 
green turtles from late May to mid September, and leatherback turtles 
from late February to July. Artificial lights, obstructions (e.g., 
groins, escarpments, beach furniture, and armoring structures), night-
time human activity on nesting beaches, and predation are known or 
suspected to deter turtles from nesting.
    Sea turtle eggs incubate within the warm, moist egg chamber for 50 
to 75 days (species specific). Incubating eggs are vulnerable to 
predation, crushing, drowning, or washout. Along Indian River County's 
coastline, sea turtle nests are depredated principally by racoons and 
in some locations predation rates may be as high as 30 percent. 
Trampling by humans and heavy construction equipment can crush sea 
turtle nests. Sea turtle eggs can withstand occasional inundation 
associated with spring tides, but repeated or long-duration inundation 
typically associated with storm events can drown eggs. During storm 
events, sea turtle nests are often washed out. Nests deposited between 
an armoring structure and the sea are more vulnerable to washout.
    After hatching, young sea turtles dig upward to the beach surface 
and immediately crawl toward the sea. Hatchling emergence typically 
occurs at night. Factors affecting the survival of hatchling sea 
turtles include compaction of sand on top of the egg chamber, 
predation, and disorientation due to artificial lighting. Pedestrian 
traffic and heavy equipment use can cause compaction of sand and create 
an impenetrable substrate for hatchling turtles which ultimately 
results in their death. Following successful emergence at the beach 
surface, hatchlings are vulnerable to terrestrial and aerial predators. 
Raccoons, domestic cats, ghost crabs, and a variety of sea birds often 
take hatchling sea turtles. Because hatchling sea turtles orient to 
ambient light reflected by the sea surface, artificial light sources 
can interfere with the ability of hatchlings to correctly orient 
towards the sea. Often, disoriented hatchlings are attracted towards 
the source of the artificial light and away from the sea. Disoriented 
hatchlings typically die from dessication, predation, or exhaustion.
    The Applicant proposes to authorize the construction of up to 31 
emergency coastal armoring structures on beachfront property used by 
nesting sea turtles. The 31 armoring structures will impact about 3,196 
linear feet of coastline where turtles nest. Over the 30-year period of 
the requested ITP, the Applicant anticipates taking 1,185 sea turtle 
nests. The loss of sea turtle nests is expected due to a decrease in 
the quality of nesting habitat seaward of armoring structures once they 
are built. Adult sea turtles and their eggs and hatchlings may also be 
taken during construction of temporary emergency shoreline armoring 
structures due to the destruction of eggs by equipment and construction 
materials, mortality of eggs due to relocation actions, mortality of 
hatchlings and adults due to entanglement in construction equipment and 
debris or entrapment in excavated areas, and from harassment due to 
construction activities. Construction-related impacts to sea turtles 
and their nests are expected to be minor.
    Most of the taking of sea turtles will occur as a result of post-
construction impacts of the armoring structures. Once completed, 
armoring structures can prevent sea turtles from accessing suitable 
nesting habitat, result in modified nesting behavior, or increase the 
risk of wash-out of nests constructed seaward of armoring structures. 
Construction and post-construction impacts are described in greater 
detail below.
    Construction: A variety of emergency armoring structures may be 
constructed under the Applicant's statutory authority. Possible 
armoring structures can generally be divided into two categories; soft 
structures and hardened structures. Soft structures typically refer to 
the placement of beach-compatible sand into areas that have eroded and 
may take the form of loose sand or sand temporarily contained by fabric 
or other materials. Hardened structures usually include ``walls'' 
constructed of wood, metal sheetpile, or concrete. These types of 
structures are sited as landward as possible but can occur within the 
tidal zone on severely eroded beaches.
    Depending on the type of structure to be built, the construction 
may involve the scraping of sand from lower areas of the beach and 
using it to create a protective berm. Alternatively, beach-compatible 
fill from upland sources may also be used in some localities to create 
a protective berm. Temporary barriers made of sand bags or geo-textile 
tubes filled with sand may also be used. Existing structures may be 
reinforced with one or more of the methods described above. The 
construction of hardened emergency armoring structures requires the 
driving of pilings and/or sheetmetal into the soil.
    During any of these construction activities, sea turtle nests may 
be smothered, unearthed, or crushed. Additionally, equipment and 
materials left on the beach overnight may effectively eliminate or 
prevent nesting turtles from reaching otherwise suitable nesting 
habitat. Those same materials, as well as holes and debris on the 
beach, may entrap both adult and hatchling turtles.
    Post Construction: An armoring structure can have deleterious 
effects on nesting sea turtles. Although emergency armoring structures 
can only remain in place for a maximum of 30 days

[[Page 65732]]

pursuant to State regulations, opportunities exist for beachfront 
homeowners to apply to the State of Florida for a permit to replace 
temporary emergency armoring structures with permanent structures. 
Thus, sea turtles could potentially be exposed to the long-term effects 
of armoring structures and the HCP and environmental assessment assume 
that all authorized emergency armoring structures subsequently become 
permanent structures.
    Beaches seaward of seawalls and other armoring structures are 
typically narrower than natural unarmored beaches. As a result, on 
eroding shorelines seawalls may increase swash velocity, duration and 
elevation, thereby accelerating erosion in front of the structure. 
Additionally, buried portions of a seawall may alter beach porosity, 
permeability, beach groundwater elevation, and beach slope variability. 
Collectively, these changes in beach characteristics can diminish the 
quality of the beach as nesting habitat for sea turtles and these areas 
may be avoided by gravid female sea turtles. Furthermore, the physical 
presence of armoring structures may decrease the number of emergences 
by nesting females in front of the structures. Additionally, females 
that encounter hardened structures are more likely to return to sea 
without nesting. Females that encounter hardened structures when 
seeking suitable nesting habitat may wander more than turtles not 
encountering hardened structures. Behavioral modifications such as 
these likely increase energy expenditure and decrease fitness of 
nesting sea turtles.
    The Service has worked with the Applicant to design measures to 
minimize and mitigate the impacts of coastal armoring on nesting sea 
turtles. Minimization measures proposed by the Applicant include 
conservation benefits from pre-project proactive planning, stringent 
pre-construction assessments and permitting, implementation of 
construction precautions during the nesting season, and requirements 
for post-construction monitoring during the nesting season. A public 
awareness program will be implemented to inform beachfront homeowners 
of coastal erosion and the regulatory process for protecting 
properties. Homeowners will be encouraged to take proactive steps to 
protect their property and prevent the need to seek emergency armoring 
permits. If landowners voluntarily take preventative action by 
installing armoring structures prior to an emergency situation, impacts 
to nesting sea turtles could be reduced. Furthermore, in the event 
emergency armoring is requested, the Applicant agrees to stringently 
review the application, identify the most practical, least-impact 
armoring design and location, and require avoidance or relocation of 
affected sea turtle nests. During construction, the Applicant will 
require daily sea turtle nesting surveys at the construction and access 
sites, marking of nest sites, relocation of vulnerable nests, and 
minimization of impacts through timing restrictions on use and location 
of heavy equipment. Following construction, the Applicant agrees to 
require that sea turtle nesting surveys continue until all construction 
debris and materials are removed from the beach. Finally, in the event 
any emergency structure is removed, all of the minimization measures 
identified above for use during construction will also be implemented.
    The Applicant has completed or is proposing a number of mitigation 
measures that will indirectly or directly benefit nesting sea turtles. 
Protection of beachfront property, implementation of a predator control 
program, better light management, and systematic sea turtle nest 
surveys are expected to result in conservation of turtles and their 
nests. Several of the proposed mitigation measures will have 
quantifiable results, including an expected reduction in nest predation 
from areas currently know to suffer high predation rates. A coordinated 
effort to educate beachfront homeowners about the effects of light 
pollution and subsequent modification and enforcement of a county 
lighting ordinance is expected to be beneficial to nesting turtles and 
hatchlings. The Applicant has also cost-shared on the acquisition of 
beachfront property and anticipates that the protection of 1,500 linear 
feet of shoreline resulting from this acquisition will eliminate future 
threats (e.g., lighting, armoring, and human disturbance) associated 
with residential and commercial development that may have existed 
without public acquisition. These mitigation benefits should total just 
over 5,100 additional nests of all species combined over the life of 
the proposed permit compared to the expected cumulative nest success 
without conservation measures (a ratio of about 4 saved nests per each 
destroyed or displaced nest). Finally, the Applicant also proposes to 
administer systematic sea turtle nest surveys for areas not already 
covered by index nesting-beach surveys. The Applicant intends to act as 
a clearinghouse for survey information so that consistent biological 
information is available for use in making decisions that may affect 
sea turtles and/or their nests.
    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, 
the ITP will be issued for the incidental take of sea turtles along 
Indian River County's coastline. The Service will also evaluate whether 
the issuance of a section 10(a)(1)(B) permit 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 5, 2003.
Sam D. Hamilton,
Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 03-29081 Filed 11-20-03; 8:45 am]