[Federal Register: September 22, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 182)]
[Page 48285-48287]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R2-ES-2009-N159; 20124-1112-0000-F2]

Environmental Impact Statement and Habitat Conservation Plan; 
Oncor Electric Delivery Company; Routine Maintenance and Repair of 
Facilities and Installation and Operation of New Facilities

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare a draft environmental impact 
statement and draft habitat conservation plan; announcement of 
meetings; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), advise the 
public that we intend to prepare a draft Environmental Impact Statement 
(EIS) to evaluate the impacts of, and alternatives to, the proposed 
issuance of an Endangered Species Act permit to Oncor Electric Delivery 
Company (Oncor; Applicant) for incidental take of 10 federally listed 
species from activities associated with maintenance and repair of 
existing facilities and installation and operation of new facilities 
within Oncor's service area. We also announce plans for a series of 
public scoping meetings located throughout Oncor's service area and a 
public comment period.

DATES: Written comments on alternatives and issues to be addressed in 
the draft EIS must be received by close of business on December 1, 
2009. Public scoping meetings will be held at nine locations throughout 
Oncor's proposed 103-county permit area. Public meetings will be held 
between September 28, 2009, and October 28, 2009. Exact meeting 
locations and times will be noticed in local newspapers and at the 
Austin Ecological Services Office Web site, http://www.fws.gov/
southwest/es/AustinTexas/, at least 2 weeks prior to each event.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments or requests for information by mail to 
the Field Supervisor, Austin Ecological Services Field Office, 10711 
Burnett Road, Suite 200, Austin, TX 78758-4460; telephone 512/490-0057; 
facsimile 512/490-0974; or e-mail luela_roberts@fws.gov. Note that 
your information request or comments concern the Oncor draft EIS/HCP.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: This notice is published in compliance with 
the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended (42 
U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and its implementing regulations (40 CFR 1506.6), 
and section 10(c) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended 
(Act; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The Service intends to gather the 
information necessary to determine impacts and alternatives to support 
a decision regarding the potential issuance of an incidental take 
permit to the Applicant, and the implementation of the supporting draft 
    The Service intends to prepare a draft EIS to evaluate the impacts 
of, and alternatives to, the proposed issuance of an incidental take 
permit under the Act to the Applicant. The Applicant proposes to apply 
for an incidental take permit through development and implementation of 
an HCP. The proposed HCP will include measures necessary to minimize 
and mitigate the impacts to the maximum extent practicable of potential 
proposed taking of federally listed species and the habitats upon which 
they depend during routine maintenance and repair of existing Oncor 
facilities and installation and operation of new Oncor facilities 
within Oncor's service area.


    Section 9 of the Act prohibits ``taking'' of fish and wildlife 
species listed as endangered or threatened under section 4 of the Act. 
Under the Act, the term ``take'' means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, 
shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in 
any such conduct. The term ``harm'' is defined in the regulations as 
significant habitat modification or degradation that results in death 
or injury to listed species by significantly impairing essential 
behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering (50 CFR 
17.3). The term ``harass'' is defined in the regulations as actions 
that create the likelihood of injury to listed species to such an 
extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns which 
include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (50 
CFR 17.3). However, the Service may, under specified circumstances, 
issue permits that allow the take of federally listed species, provided 
that the take incidental to, but not the purpose of, otherwise lawful 
activity. Regulations governing permits for endangered and threatened 
species are at 50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32, respectively.
    Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act contains provisions for issuing such 
incidental take permits to non-Federal entities for the take of 
endangered and threatened species, provided the following criteria are 
met: (1) The taking will be incidental; (2) The applicant will, to the 
maximum extent practicable, minimize and mitigate the impact of such 
taking; (3) The applicant will develop a draft HCP and ensure that 
adequate funding for the plan will be provided; (4) The taking will not 
appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the 
species in the wild; and (5) The applicant will carry out any other 
measures that we may require as being necessary or appropriate for the 
purposes of the habitat conservation plan.
    Thus, the purpose of issuing a permit is to allow Oncor to maintain 
the efficiency of its projects and operations, while preserving 
protected species and their habitat. Adoption of a multispecies habitat 
conservation approach, rather than a species-by-species/project-by-
project approach, will reduce the costs of implementing species 
minimization and mitigation measures, and eliminate cost and time-
consuming efforts associated with processing individual incidental take 
permits for each project

[[Page 48286]]

within Oncor's 106-county service area. In addition, the multispecies 
habitat conservation plan approach provides a program of minimization, 
including avoidance, and mitigation for each species that is 
coordinated on a landscape level and provides increased benefits to the 
covered species. The Service expects that the Applicant will request 
permit coverage for a period of 30 years.

Scoping Meetings

    The purpose of the scoping meetings is to provide the public with a 
general understanding of the background of the proposed HCP and 
activities that would be covered by the draft HCP, alternative 
proposals under consideration for the draft EIS, and the Service's role 
and steps to be taken to develop the draft EIS for the draft HCP. The 
meeting format will consist of a 1-hour open house prior to the formal 
scoping meeting that will provide an opportunity to learn about the 
proposed action, permit area, and species covered. The open house will 
be followed by a formal presentation of the proposed action, summary of 
the NEPA process, and presentation of oral comments from meeting 
participants. A court reporter will be present at each meeting and an 
interpreter will be present when deemed necessary. The primary purpose 
of these meetings and public comment period is to solicit suggestions 
and information on the scope of issues and alternatives to consider 
when drafting the EIS. Oral and written comments will be accepted at 
the meetings. Comments can also be submitted to persons listed in the 
ADDRESSES section. Once the draft EIS and draft HCP are completed and 
noticed for review, there will be additional opportunity for public 
comment on the content of these documents through an additional public 
hearing and comment period.


    The proposed action presented in the draft EIS will be compared to 
the No-Action alternative. The No-Action alternative represents 
estimated future conditions to which the proposed action's estimated 
future conditions can be compared.

No-Action Alternative

    Because the proposed covered activities (operation and maintenance 
of existing lines and construction and operation of new lines) are 
vital in providing services to accommodate future population growth and 
energy demand, these activities would continue regardless of whether a 
10(a)(1)(B) permit is sought or issued. The Applicant would continue to 
avoid and minimize impacts to protected species habitat. Where 
potential impacts could not be avoided, and where a Federal nexus 
exists, they would be minimized and mitigated for through individual 
formal or informal consultation with the Service. Thus, the Applicant 
would potentially need an individual section 10(a)(1)(B) incidental 
take permit on a project-by-project basis if activities might result in 
the incidental take of a federally protected species within the 
proposed permit area. Although future activities by the Applicant would 
be similar to those covered by the HCP, not all activities would 
necessitate an incidental take permit or even informal consultation 
with the Service. Thus, under this alternative, numerous individual 
section 10(a)(1)(B) permit applications would likely be filed over the 
30-year project period. This project-by-project approach would be more 
time-consuming, less efficient, and could result in an isolated 
independent mitigation approach.

Proposed Alternative

    The proposed action is the issuance of an incidental take permit 
for the covered species during construction, operation, and/or 
maintenance of the Applicant's transmission and distribution electrical 
facilities within the proposed permit area for a period of 30 years. 
The proposed HCP, which must meet the requirements in section 
10(a)(2)(A) of the Act by providing measures to minimize and mitigate 
the effects of the potential incidental take of covered species to the 
maximum extent practicable, would be developed and implemented by the 
Applicant. This alternative could allow for a comprehensive mitigation 
approach for unavoidable impacts and reduce the permit processing 
effort for the Service.
    Actions covered under the requested incidental take permit may 
include general activities associated with new construction, 
maintenance, and emergency response and restoration, including 
stormwater discharges from construction sites, equipment access, and 
surveying. Construction activities covered for new facilities would 
include new overhead transmission and distribution lines, new support 
facilities such as substations and switching stations, adding a second 
circuit on an existing structure, and underground electric 
installation. Typical maintenance activities would include vegetation 
management within a right-of-way, expansion of existing support 
facilities, line upgrades, insulator replacement, and maintenance of 
underground electric facilities.
    The Applicant expects to apply for an incidental take permit for 
ten species listed as endangered or threatened within the Oncor service 
area. These species include four plants (large-fruited sand verbena, 
Texas poppy-mallow, Navasota ladies'-tresses, and Pecos sunflower), one 
invertebrate (American burying beetle), one amphibian (Houston toad), 
three birds (golden-cheeked warbler, black-capped vireo, and red-
cockaded woodpecker), and one mammal (Louisiana black bear).
    Counties included in the proposed permit area are those counties 
within the 105-county Oncor service area, excluding Travis and 
Williamson counties. These two counties are excluded because species in 
them are covered under the Balcones Canyonland Plan and the Williamson 
County Regional HCP.
    Species not covered by the proposed incidental take permit will 
also be addressed in the draft HCP. These species include candidate 
species and federally listed species not likely to be affected by the 
covered activities. The purpose of addressing the additional species is 
to explain why the Applicant believes these species will not be 
impacted by the covered activities.
    Other alternatives considered will also be addressed in the draft 
EIS, including impacts associated with each alternative evaluated will 
be discussed in the draft EIS.

Public Availability of Comments

    Written comments we receive become part of the public record 
associated with this action. Before including your address, phone 
number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in 
your comment, you should be aware that the entire comment--including 
your personal identifying information--may be made publicly available 
at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your 
personal identifying information from public review, we cannot 
guarantee that we will be able to do so.

Environmental Review

    The Service will conduct an environmental review to analyze the 
proposed action, as well as other alternatives evaluated and the 
associated impacts of each. The draft EIS will be the basis for the 
impact evaluation for each species covered and the range of 
alternatives to be addressed. The draft EIS is expected to provide 
biological descriptions of the affected species and habitats, as well 
as the effects of the alternatives on other resources such as 
vegetation, wetlands,

[[Page 48287]]

wildlife, geology and soils, air quality, water resources, water 
quality, cultural resources, land use, recreation, water use, local 
economy, and environmental justice.
    Following completion of the environmental review, the Service will 
publish a notice of availability and a request for comment on the draft 
EIS and the Applicant's permit application, which will include the 
draft HCP. The draft EIS and draft HCP are expected to be completed and 
available to the public in early 2010.

Thomas L. Bauer,
Acting Regional Director, Region 2, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
[FR Doc. E9-22742 Filed 9-21-09; 8:45 am]