[Federal Register: January 6, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 4)]
[Page 951-953]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Receipt of an Application and Availability of an Environmental 
Assessment for an Incidental Take Permit for a Commercial Wind-Energy 
Project in Guayanilla, PR

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: WindMar RE (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 Puerto Rican nightjar (Caprimulgus noctitherus) (nightjar), 
brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis occidentalis), and roseate tern 
(Sterna dougallii), incidental to the construction and operation, over 
a 40-year term of a commercial wind-energy project in Punta Verraco, 
Cerro Toro, and Punta Ventana in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico (Project).
    The Applicant's Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) describes the 
mitigation and minimization measures proposed to address the effects of 
the Project on nightjars, brown pelicans, and roseate terns. These 
measures are described further in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section 
below. The Service announces the availability of the HCP and our 
Environmental Assessment (EA) for the incidental take permit 
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 National Environmental Policy Act 
regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

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 7, 2006.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application, HCP, and EA may 
obtain copies 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 Caribbean Field Office, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Road 301 Km. 5.1, P.O. Box 491, 
Boquer[oacute]n, Puerto Rico 00622. 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.

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7313; or Ms. 
Marelisa Rivera, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Boquer[oacute]n Field 
Office, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 787/851-7297, extension 231.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: If you wish to comment, you may submit 
comments by any one of several methods. Please reference permit number 
TE104073-0 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 of the telephone numbers listed below (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT). Finally, you may hand deliver comments to either 
of the Service offices 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. 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.
    The endangered nightjar is an endemic bird of Puerto Rico belonging 
to the family Caprimulgidae. This insectivorous and nocturnal bird 
nests from late February through early July, but the peak period is 
from April to June. The nightjar does not construct a nest, but rather 
the eggs are laid directly on leaf litter under vegetation having a 
canopy 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 feet) in height. The species is presently 
found in the dry limestone forests of the southwestern coast of Puerto 
Rico, and in the lower cordillera forest in Sus[uacute]a area. The 
species' current distribution includes the Pe[ntilde]ones de Melones 
area in Cabo Rojo, the Sierra Bermeja forested hills in Cabo Rojo-Lajas 
area, the Gu[aacute]nica--Yauco area including the Gu[aacute]nica 
Commonwealth Forest, the Guayanilla--Pe[ntilde]uelas hills, Ponce, and 
Sus[uacute]a-Maricao area including the Sus[uacute]a Commonwealth 
Forest. Approximately 712 singing male nightjars have been estimated in 
9,839 ha (24,598 acres) in Sus[uacute]a, Gu[aacute]nica and Guayanilla. 
The species is threatened by habitat modification and destruction for 
urban, industrial, and tourism development, and by predation by exotic 
species such as mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) and cats (Felis 
    The Applicant conducted an intensive study of the Puerto Rican 
nightjar during the 2003 and 2004 breeding seasons and recorded 
approximately 33 singing male nightjars in 2003, and approximately 42 
singing male nightjars in 2004, both studies conducted on 250 hectares 
(625 acres) of dry forest.
    The brown pelican is found along North American coasts from 
California through Mexico, around the Gulf of Mexico, and through North 
Carolina, as well as the West Indies, many Caribbean islands, and 
Guyana and Venezuela in South America. It is considered endangered 
throughout its range, except on the U.S. Atlantic coast and the Gulf 
coast of Florida and Alabama.
    Brown pelicans nest in colonies, mostly on small coastal islands. 
In Puerto Rico, brown pelicans have nested in A[ntilde]asco, Cayo 
Fr[iacute]o (Lajas), Cayo Don Luis (Gu[aacute]nica), Cayo Conejo 
(Vieques), Montalva Bay (Gu[aacute]nica-Parguera), Aguadilla, Guanajibo 
(Mayag[uuml]ez), Cayo Ratones (Cabo Rojo), Cayos Fr[iacute]os (Ponce), 
and Cayo Morrillito (Ponce). In the U.S. Virgin Islands, brown pelicans

[[Page 952]]

nest in Dutch Cap Cay (St. Thomas), Congo Cay (St. John), Mary Point 
(St. John), Whistling Key (St. John), Buck Island (St. Croix), and 
Green Cay (St. Croix). In the U.S. Caribbean, the species is threatened 
by low food abundance; die-offs; poaching of eggs, young, and adults; 
human disturbance of nesting colonies; entanglement in fishing gear; 
and loss or degradation of coastal forests.
    The Applicant conducted pelican censuses at Guayanilla Bay, and a 
study on flight patterns of pelicans through the project site. Based on 
the study's results, brown pelicans use the wind to move as 
effortlessly as possible near the project site. The pelican's 
predominant flight pattern is along the immediate coast, where there 
are updrafts. To enter Guayanilla Bay, where they roost and feed, 
pelicans use three principal routes: (1) Around the tip of the 
peninsula (2.2 birds/hr), (2) gliding ``downhill'' out of the updraft 
elevator at Cerro Toro (1.4 birds/hr), and (3) at any point across the 
main part of the peninsula (0.2 birds/hr, but at 0.06 birds/hr at rotor 
height). Departing Guayanilla Bay for the Caribbean, where they also 
feed, most pelicans go around the peninsula tip (3.9 birds/hr), but 
some birds cross the main part of the peninsula (0.1 birds/hr, 0.08 
birds/hr at rotor height) and some use the Cerro Toro crossing (0.1 
birds/hr). Based on observations at Cerro Toro and Punta Verraco, 
observers have estimated that it is likely that between 12 and 20 
pelicans regularly fly and feed around the project site. Surveys of 
Guayanilla Bay and adjacent areas have recorded as many as 100 
individuals, though half this number or less at the study period.
    The roseate tern is a migratory species that is listed as 
threatened in the Caribbean. This species is distributed throughout the 
Caribbean, with the largest populations occurring in the Lesser 
Antilles. In general, roseate terns in the Caribbean begin egg laying 
in May, and have downy chicks in June which fledge in July. Roseate 
terns breed primarily on small offshore islands, rocks, cays, and 
islets. Roseate terns have been reported nesting near vegetation or 
jagged rock, on open sandy beaches, close to waterline on narrow ledges 
of emerging rocks, or among coral rubble. Total population numbers are 
not known, but between 3,000 and 6,000 breeding pairs have been 
estimated for the Caribbean region. It has been suggested that egging, 
human disturbance, predation, and netting of adults in Guyana, South 
America, are the main factors affecting the Caribbean roseate tern. The 
Applicant did not record roseate terns during its flight-use study or 
in recent years. We have recorded the nesting of this species (four 
times in fourteen years) on Cayo Guayanilla, a small coral islet 600 m 
(2,000 feet) south of the tip of Punta Verraco peninsula.
    The Project would erect twenty-five 1.65 megawatt (MW) wind 
turbines on Punta Verraco, Cerro Toro, and Punta Ventana, the site's 
three upland areas. The widening of 8.7 kilometers (km) (5.4 miles) of 
existing roads, siting of 1.4 km (0.87 mile) of new roads, and 
preparation of construction areas to erect the wind turbines would 
affect a maximum of 12.2 ha (30.6 acres) of dry forest (4.2 percent of 
the entire property, and 4.9 percent of the property's dry forest). 
Incidental to affecting a maximum of 12.2 ha (30.6) the Project would 
permanently eliminate 1.7 ha (4.3 acres) of nightjar habitat and cause 
the temporary loss of 10.5 ha (26.3 acres) of nightjar habitat, and may 
result in harm of 12 nightjar singing territories. The operation of the 
wind-energy project may result in mortality of one brown pelican every 
5 years, and one roseate tern every 20 years. No mortality of nightjars 
is anticipated from collisions with operating wind turbines.
    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 avoid, 
minimize and mitigate taking at the Project site. To avoid impacts to 
nightjars from construction activities the Applicant will clear the 
vegetation outside of the nightjar nesting season. However, in 
emergency situations, if vegetation needs to be cleared during the 
nesting season, the Applicant will use experienced and qualified 
biologists to search for nightjar nests before any clearing activity is 
conducted. In the event that nests are found, the Applicant will avoid 
them by redesigning the road or construction area, or by delaying the 
activity until the nightjars fledge their young.
    To minimize impacts to listed species from construction and 
operation of the project, the Applicant will:
    1. Widen and use 8.7 km (5.4 miles) of existing roads rather than 
constructing the needed 10.1 km (6.18 miles) of roads along entirely 
new alignments.
    2. Use fewer, larger turbines rather than a greater number of 
smaller turbines.
    3. Clear vegetation using small to midsize bulldozers to scrape the 
vegetation at the surface and leave the rootstalks intact to encourage 
    4. Paint rotor blades to make them more visible to birds.
    5. Establish a predator control program. The Applicant will 
institute a permanent program to trap mongoose, rats, and feral animals 
on the site in order to decrease predation pressure on the nightjars, 
the dry forest lizard (Anolis cooki), and other native animals.
    6. Establish roads as fire brakes. The Applicant will maintain 
access roads to the wind turbines as fire brakes to decrease the threat 
of fire to the nightjar and its habitat.
    7. Implement Avian Power Line Interaction Committee (APLIC) 
guidelines. The Applicant will bury all electrical transmission lines 
on the site out to PR-335, where they will run aboveground along 
existing transmission line poles to the Puerto Rico Electric Power 
Authority (PREPA) substation.
    To mitigate the effects of permanently eliminating 1.7 ha (4.3 
acres) of nightjar habitat and causing the temporary loss of 10.5 ha 
(26.3 acres) that would result in take of 12 nightjar singing male 
territories, the take of one brown pelican every 5 years, and the take 
of one roseate tern every 20 years, the Applicant will:
    1. Establish a conservation easement on 245 ha (612.5 acres) of the 
Project site. The Applicant will grant a conservation easement that 
protects 85 percent of the Project site. The conservation easement will 
compensate for Project impacts at a rate of approximately 17 acres 
conserved to 1 acre of direct impact. The easement is being drafted in 
accordance with a law approved on December 27, 2001, by the Legislature 
of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Law Number 183, Puerto Rico 
Conservation Law). The easement will be offered to a qualifying non-
profit organization.
    2. Restore at least 2.6 ha (6.5 acres) of the 3.1 ha (7.8 acres) of 
the previous Texaco quarry at the base of Punta Verraco with dry forest 
vegetation. This activity will restore 21 percent of the dry forest 
lost due to construction impacts. This restoration will fill in a key 
habitat gap at the base of the Verraco peninsula, allowing nightjars to 
establish territories in an area that is presently too fragmented for 
viable territories to be established. This restoration may allow for 
two or more additional nightjar territories, once dry

[[Page 953]]

forest with good structure has been established.
    3. Restore a 10-hectare (25-acre) mangrove area by improving 
drainage. The Applicant will restore this mangrove area destroyed by 
the construction of the causeway to Punta Verraco and subsequent 
silting in of its culverts. This restoration will likely improve 
foraging resources for the endangered brown pelican and threatened 
roseate tern.
    4. Support brown pelican research. The Applicant will contract with 
experts and scientists to work with pelican biologists to develop a 
research program that meets the priorities identified in studies 
conducted by the Applicant and in the species recovery plan. The 
Applicant will provide a $100,000 grant to accomplish the actions 
prioritized in the research program.
    5. Establish an environmental education program. The Applicant will 
educate visitors about renewable energy and the plants and wildlife of 
southwest Puerto Rico. The Applicant will control site access, schedule 
visiting hours, and lead visitors on regularly scheduled tours. The 
Applicant will produce a brochure to be handed out in schools, 
community centers, and hotels. The Applicant will also finance 
environmental education projects in surrounding communities. One 
priority project will be to educate residents and tourists about the 
marine environment and the measures required to improve its health. 
This project will focus on the plight of the brown pelican. In 
addition, the Applicant will provide facilities at the Ventana beach 
area for local visitors, including an informational kiosk with 
environmental education materials.
    The Service has made a preliminary determination that 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 comments 
received in response to this notice, and it is based on information 
contained in the EA and HCP.
    The Service will evaluate the HCP and comments submitted thereon, 
to determine whether the application meets the issuance criteria 
requirements of section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act. By conducting an intra-
Service section 7 consultation, the Service will also evaluate whether 
issuance of the section 10(a)(1)(B) ITP would comply with section 7 of 
the Act. 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 for the nightjar, the brown pelican, and the 
roseate tern.

    Dated: December 12, 2005.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director, Southeast Region.
 [FR Doc. E6-8 Filed 1-5-06; 8:45 am]