[Federal Register: April 28, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 82)]
[Page 25221-25223]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Proposed 
Reaffirmation of Incidental Take Permits (ITPs) That Were Previously 
Issued To Allow Incidental Take of the Endangered Alabama Beach Mouse 
and Announcement of a Public Meeting

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; announcement of a public meeting.


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces the 
availability of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which 
analyzes the environmental impacts associated with incidental take 
permits that were previously issued under the Endangered Species Act of 
1973 (Act), as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), for take of the 
Alabama beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus ammobates). The DEIS also 
analyzes a full range of reasonable alternatives, including a No-Action 
alternative. The incidental take permits, previously issued to Gulf 
Highlands LLC and Beach Club West, involve the construction, occupancy, 
use, operation, and maintenance of two residential/recreational 
condominium development projects on the Fort Morgan Peninsula in 
Baldwin County, Alabama. We will

[[Page 25222]]

hold a public meeting to inform the public and interested stakeholders 
about the DEIS and solicit their input on the document.

DATES: Written comments concerning the DEIS should be sent to the 
Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be received on or 
before July 27, 2006 We will hold a public meeting on June 26, 2006, at 
6:30 p.m.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the DEIS may obtain a copy by 
writing either to the Service's Southeast Regional Office at Regional 
Office, 1875 Century Boulevard, Suite 200, Atlanta, GA 30345 (Attn: 
Endangered Species Permits), or to the Alabama Field Office at U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, 1208-B Main Street, Daphne, Alabama 36526 
(Attn: Acting Supervisor). Documents will be available for public 
inspection by appointment during normal business hours at the Southeast 
Regional Office. Written data or comments concerning the DEIS should be 
submitted to the Regional Office. Please reference permit numbers TE-
007985-0 (Gulf Highlands) and TE-031307-0 (Fort Morgan Peninsula Joint 
Venture) in your comments, or in requests for documents.
    Our June 26, 2006, public meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m., at 
the Adult Activity Center located at 260 Clubhouse Drive, Gulf Shores, 
Alabama. A court reporter will be present to record all comments, and 
all interested parties will be allowed to comment.

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-4144; or Acting 
Supervisor, Alabama Field Office (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 251/

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Service specifically requests 
information, views, and opinions from the public via this notice on the 
DEIS and the actions proposed by the permittees. Comments are requested 
on the two preferred alternatives and reasons for selecting one over 
the other. Submitted comments must be in writing to be considered in 
the Service's decisionmaking process.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit comments by any one of 
several methods. Please reference permit application numbers TE-007985-
0 (Gulf Highlands) and TE-031307-0 (Fort Morgan Peninsula Joint 
Venture) in such comments. You may mail comments to the Services' 
Southeast Regional Office (see ADDRESSES). You may also comment via the 
Internet to aaron_valenta@fws.gov. Please also include your name and 
return address in your e-mail message. If you do not receive a 
confirmation that we have received your e-mail message, contact us 
directly at either telephone number listed above (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT). Finally, you may hand-deliver comments to either 
service office listed above (see ADDRESSES). Our practice is to make 
comments, including names and home addresses of respondents, available 
for public review during regular business hours at both the regional 
and field offices. Individual respondents may request that we withhold 
their home addresses 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.
    In April 2002, the Service issued incidental take permits to the 
permittees (referred to as permittees since the permits were previously 
issued but are currently held in abeyance) following preparation of an 
Environmental Assessment, announced on April 9, 2002 (67 FR 17089), and 
a finding of no significant impact. The Sierra Club and Friends of the 
Earth, Inc., filed an action in the United States District Court for 
the Southern District of Alabama challenging the Environmental 
Assessment and finding of no significant impact. See Sierra Club and 
Friends of the Earth v. Norton, 207 F. Supp 2d. 1310 (S.D. Ala. 2002). 
The Judge granted a preliminary injunction against take of the Alabama 
beach mouse pursuant to the incidental take permits that were issued to 
the permittees. Subsequently, the Service requested and the Court 
granted a voluntary remand for the preparation of an environmental 
impact statement. On October 8, 2002, the Service published a Federal 
Register notice (67 FR 62809) announcing its intent to prepare an 
environmental impact statement and hold a scoping meeting. The scoping 
meeting was held at Gulf State Park on October 29, 2002.
    General activities proposed for permit coverage include 
construction and maintenance activities associated with residential and 
commercial development. The proposed residential/recreational 
condominium developments would be located on approximately 186.7 acres 
in south Baldwin County, Alabama, between State Highway 180 and the 
Gulf of Mexico (Section 28, Township 9 South, Range 2 East) about 12 
miles west of Highway 59 in Gulf Shores, Alabama, on the Fort Morgan 
Peninsula. As proposed by the Permittees, 143.5 acres for alternative 4 
or 146.2 acres for alternative 5 of the property would be conserved as 
a condition of the incidental take permits. This includes approximately 
30 acres of Alabama beach mouse critical habitat on the property which 
would likewise not be developed except for installation of dune 
walkovers extending from the south edge of the developed footprint of 
the residential building to the north edge of the wet beach.
    The Permittee's future activities have the potential to impact 
Alabama beach mice subject to protection under the Act. The Alabama 
beach mouse was listed as an endangered species in 1985 (50 FR 23872) 
due to decreased populations and a loss of habitat. The Alabama beach 
mouse is one of eight subspecies of the old-field mouse that occupy 
coastal rather than inland habitat and are referred to as beach mice. 
The Alabama beach mouse is pale gray with a distinct stripe running 
down the back and tail.
    In 2005, the Service determined that the current range of the 
Alabama beach mouse extends approximately 22 km (14 miles) on the Fort 
Morgan Peninsula. The Service identified a total of 2,544 acres of 
Alabama beach mouse habitat, including 110 acres at Gulf State Park. 
Track monitoring after hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 indicate that the 
Alabama beach mouse may continue to use areas that were temporarily 
inundated. The Alabama beach mouse may have been extirpated from Gulf 
State Park by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
    Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act allows for permitting non-Federal 
landowners to take endangered and threatened species, provided the take 
is incidental to otherwise lawful activities and will not appreciably 
reduce the likelihood for the survival and recovery of the species in 
the wild, among other permit issuance criteria. An applicant for a 
permit under section 10 of the Act must prepare and submit to the 
Service for approval a habitat conservation plan (HCP) containing, 
among other things, a strategy for minimizing and mitigating all take 
associated with the proposed activities to the maximum extent 
practicable. The applicant must also ensure that adequate funding for 
implementation of the plan will be provided.

[[Page 25223]]

    The DEIS analyzes the Permittees' proposed HCP, as well as a full 
range of reasonable alternatives and the associated impacts of each. 
The Service has developed five alternatives for analysis, including two 
preferred alternatives (alternatives 4 and 5).
    Alternative 1--No Action. The No-Action alternative considers the 
likely outcome if the Service does not reaffirm the issued incidental 
take permits. Under this alternative, the two projects would not be 
constructed as currently proposed.
    Alternative 2--Development According to the Original Gulf Highlands 
Subdivision Plat. Portions of the Permittees' properties were 
originally platted and zoned for single family residential development 
by the Baldwin County Planning Commission. This alternative would 
involve development according to the original subdivision of the lands, 
which included approximately 1,076 single family lots. In order to 
construct the 1,076 residences, it is likely that the permittees would 
need to apply for and receive incidental take permits for those lots 
platted in Alabama beach mouse habitat.
    Alternative 3--Development Entirely North of the Escarpment. This 
alternative would involve development of residential condominium 
buildings and infrastructure approximately 300 feet north of the 
escarpment for both projects. Alternative 3 also includes additional 
minimization measures such as elimination of surface parking and one 
access roadway.
    Alternative 4--Development Including a 909-foot Corridor Connecting 
Adjacent Primary/Secondary Dunes and Escarpment to the Interior. This 
Alternative preserves a 909-foot undeveloped corridor on the west side 
of the proposed projects. This alternative provides for dedication of 
100.8 acres of Permittee-owned lands into conservation status via 
covenants, conditions, and restrictions attached to the property, and 
conditions of any incidental take permit that might be issued.
    Alternative 5--Development Including 909-foot Corridor Connecting 
Adjacent Primary/Secondary Dunes and Escarpment to the Interior and Use 
of Parking Decks. This Alternative preserves a 909-foot undeveloped 
corridor on the west side of the proposed projects. This alternative 
provides for dedication of more 100.8 acres of Permittee-owned lands 
into conservation status via covenants, conditions, and restrictions 
attached to the property, and conditions of any incidental take permit 
that might be issued. This alternative incorporates additional 
minimization by utilizing additional parking decking. However, the 
current zoning found on the site would not permit this alternative. 
While the permittees are seeking a zoning variance, this alternative 
may not be practicable.
    Additional alternatives are briefly discussed. These alternatives 
either resulted in greater impacts to resources (e.g., the placement of 
structures closer to the beach, resulting in increased impacts to sea 
turtles) or are not considered to be economically practicable.
    Persons wishing to provide relevant information and comments 
regarding the DEIS should submit these to the above address. For 
information, please contact the individual identified above in the FOR 
    The environmental review of this project is being conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy 
Act of 1969 as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and its implementing 
regulations (40 CFR parts 1500 through 1508), and with other 
appropriate Federal laws and regulations, policies, and procedures of 
the Service for compliance with those regulations.
    The purpose of the public meeting on June 26, 2006, at the Adult 
Activity Center, Gulf Shores, Alabama, is to seek public input on the 
DEIS, to identify concerns that may be considered in the preparation of 
the final EIS, and to ensure that the DEIS is thorough and balanced. We 
encourage comments from the public concerning the identification of 
public and agency concerns, the enumeration of environmental issues and 
alternatives examined in the DEIS, the elimination of non-significant 
issues from extensive review, and the identification of relevant 

    Dated: April 18, 2006.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. E6-6140 Filed 4-27-06; 8:45 am]