[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 197 (Friday, October 10, 2014)]
[Pages 61333-61334]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-24271]

[[Page 61333]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R8-2014-N171; FXES11120800000F2-112-FF08E00000]

Incidental Take Permit Application and Draft Environmental 
Assessment for the RE Cinco Solar Facility Project Habitat Conservation 
Plan, Kern County, California

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comment.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce receipt 
of an application from RE Barren Ridge 1 LLC, a subsidiary of Recurrent 
Energy LLC (applicant), for a 40-year incidental take permit (permit). 
The Service, in cooperation and coordination with the applicant, has 
prepared a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) under the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the applicant's permit application 
and proposed RE Cinco Solar Facility Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), 
as required by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). If 
approved, the permit would authorize incidental take for the federally 
threatened desert tortoise, associated with construction, operation, 
maintenance, and decommissioning of a photovoltaic solar facility in 
the County of Kern.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments on or 
before December 9, 2014.

ADDRESSES: Obtaining Documents: You may request a copy of the proposed 
HCP and draft EA by email, telephone, fax, or U.S. mail (see below). 
These documents are also available for public inspection by appointment 
during normal business hours at the office below. Please send your 
requests or comments by any one of the following methods, and specify 
``Cinco Solar Facility HCP'' in your request or comment.
    Submitting Comments: You may submit comments or requests for copies 
or more information by one of the following methods:
     Email: fw8cfwocomments@fws.gov. Include ``Cinco Solar 
Facility'' in the subject line of the message.
     Telephone: Raymond Bransfield, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 
     Fax: Raymond Bransfield, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
805-644-3958, Attn: Cinco Solar Facility HCP.
     U.S. mail: Raymond Bransfield, Attn: Cinco Solar Facility 
HCP, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, 
Ventura, CA 93003.
     In-Person Drop-off, Viewing, or Pickup: Call 805-644-1766 
to make an appointment during regular business hours at the above 
    Hardbound copies of the environmental assessment and habitat 
conservation plan are available for viewing at the following locations:

1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, 
CA 93003.
2. Kern County Library, Boron Branch, 26967 20 Mule Team Road, Boron, 
CA 93516.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Raymond Bransfield, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at 805-644-1766 (telephone). 
If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf, please call the 
Federal Information Relay Service at 800-877-8339.



    We announce the availability of our draft EA for the proposed Cinco 
Solar Facility HCP, in accordance with the National Environmental 
Policy Act of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.; NEPA), and NEPA 
implementing regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 40 
CFR 1506.6, as well as the availability of the applicant's section 
10(a)(1)(B) permit application in compliance with section 10(c) of the 
Endangered Species Act (Act) of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.). The draft EA considers the environmental effects associated with 
issuing the applicant's requested incidental take permit and 
implementation of the proposed HCP, including impacts to the threatened 
desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). Take of desert tortoise would be 
incidental to the applicant's activities associated with the 
construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of a 
photovoltaic solar facility in Kern County, California.


    Section 9 of the Act and implementing Federal regulations in the 
Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 50 CFR 17 prohibit the ``take'' of 
wildlife species listed as endangered or threatened. The Act defines 
the term ``take'' as ``to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, 
kill, trap, capture, or collect listed species, or to attempt to engage 
in such conduct'' (16 U.S.C. 1538). ``Harm'' includes significant 
habitat modification or degradation that actually kills or injures 
listed wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral 
patterns, including breeding, feeding, and sheltering (50 CFR 17.3). 
Under limited circumstances we may issue permits to authorize 
incidental take of listed wildlife species which the Act defines as 
take that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, the carrying out an 
otherwise lawful activity. Regulations governing permits for threatened 
species and endangered species are at 50 CFR 17.32 and 50 CFR 17.22, 
respectively. In addition to meeting other criteria, activities covered 
by an incidental take permit must not jeopardize the continued 
existence in the wild of federally listed wildlife.

Applicant's Proposal

    The applicant requests a 40-year incidental take permit under 
section 10(A)(1)(b) of the Act. If we approve the permit, the applicant 
anticipates taking desert tortoise as a result of construction, 
operation, maintenance, and decommissioning activities on 500 acres of 
land the species uses for breeding, feeding, and sheltering. The take 
would be incidental to the applicant's routine activities associated 
with the development and operation of a photovoltaic solar facility. 
The site is located in unincorporated Kern County, approximately 6.5 
miles (10.46 kilometers (km)) north of the community of California 
City. With the exception of a portion of State Route 14, which 
traverses diagonally through the southeast corner of the site, and 
several transmission line right-of-ways that diagonally traverse the 
northwest corner of the site, the surrounding area is entirely 
comprised of vacant land with no outbuildings, residences, or similar 
structures. Desert tortoise protocol surveys were conducted in 2010 and 
2011. The Service has determined the proposed project will result in 
take of desert tortoise. No other federally listed species are known to 
occur on the site.
    To mitigate take of desert tortoise on the project site, the 
applicant proposes to keep the portion of the project site east of 
State Route 14 and west of an existing transmission line undeveloped. 
The applicant would also avoid development on one area that contains 
wash vegetation and one that contains a desert tortoise burrow; both of 
these areas are located at the edge of the proposed solar field. The 
applicant proposes to permanently conserve approximately 500 acres 
within the western Mojave Desert to mitigate for the loss of desert 
tortoise habitat within the proposed project site. The draft HCP 
includes funding for the implementation of measures to protect desert 
tortoises during construction, operations, maintenance, and

[[Page 61334]]

decommissioning of the solar facility, and for enhancement and 
management of the acquired lands.
    The applicant proposes to construct and operate a generation tie-in 
line from the solar facility to the nearby Barren Ridge Substation. 
Because this route would cross lands managed by the Bureau of Land 
Management (BLM), the applicant did not include construction and 
operation of this proposed generation tie-in line as covered activities 
under its proposed HCP. The BLM and Service would consult on the 
effects of the generation tie-in line on the desert tortoise under 
section 7 of the Act. Although BLM is conducting an analysis under NEPA 
for the generation tie-in line as part of the applicant's application 
for a right-of-way to construct and operate the line, the draft EA 
prepared for the applicant's incidental take permit application also 
includes an environmental analysis of the generation tie-in line to 
ensure the Service considers the effects of the applicant's entire 
proposed project.

National Environmental Policy Act Compliance

    We provide this notice under section 10(c) of the Act and Service 
regulations for implementing NEPA. We have prepared a draft EA for the 
proposed action and have made it and the applicant's proposed HCP 
available for public inspection (see ADDRESSES). NEPA requires that a 
range of reasonable alternatives, including the proposed action, be 
described. The draft EA analyzes three alternatives, described below.

Proposed Action (Preferred Alternative)

    Our proposed action is to issue an incidental take permit to the 
applicant, who would implement the HCP, described above. If we approve 
the permit, incidental take of desert tortoise would be authorized for 
the applicant's routine activities associated with the construction, 
operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of a solar facility in Kern 

No Action Alternative

    The draft EA includes a No Action alternative that would not result 
in take of desert tortoise. Under this alternative, unless the 
applicant can determine how to build the project in a way that avoids 
take of the desert tortoise, the proposed solar facility would not be 
constructed and the private lands would remain in their current state 
and be available for other uses in accordance with Kern County's 
general plan, which classifies them as ``resource management'' lands 
zoned as ``agriculture-floodplain combining.'' Uses authorized for this 
designation and zoning include crop production, animal production, 
livestock grazing, utility and communication facilities, resource 
extraction, and energy development. If this project is not constructed, 
Kern County could permit other uses in the future with issuance of a 
conditional use permit, including solar power generation, single-family 
residential development, or commercial and institutional uses.

Solar Facility and Gen-Tie Line Alternative

    Under this alternative, the solar facility would be constructed in 
an identical manner as that described above under the Proposed Action; 
however, the applicant would construct the generation tie-in line 
entirely on non-Federal land. Therefore, the approved incidental take 
permit would also provide coverage for the construction and operation 
of a generation tie-in line to be constructed solely on non-Federal 
lands. The environmental impacts from the solar plant construction, 
operations, maintenance, and decommissioning would be identical to 
those under the Proposed Action; however, the environmental impacts and 
cost of this alternative would be greater because of the increased 
length of the electrical line (1.9 miles (3.06 km) vs. 3.6 miles (5.79 

Public Review

    The Service invites the public to comment on the permit 
application, including the proposed HCP and draft EA, during the public 
comment period (see DATES). If you wish to comment, you may submit your 
comments via one of the means listed in ADDRESSES. Before including 
your address, phone number, email address, or other personal 
identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your 
entire comment--including your personal identifying information--may be 
made publicly available at any time. While you may 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.

Next Steps

    Issuance of an incidental take permit is a Federal proposed action 
subject to compliance with NEPA. We will evaluate the application, 
associated documents, and any public comments we receive to determine 
whether the application meets the requirements of NEPA regulations and 
section 10(a) of the Act. If we determine that those requirements are 
met, we will issue a permit to the applicant for the incidental take of 
desert tortoise. We will make our final permit decision no sooner than 
December 9, 2014.

    Dated: October 6, 2014.
Alexandra Pitts,
Deputy Regional Director, Pacific Southwest Region, Sacramento, 
[FR Doc. 2014-24271 Filed 10-9-14; 8:45 am]