[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 128 (Thursday, July 2, 2020)]
[Pages 39929-39931]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-14327]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2020-0049; FF08ESMF00-FXES11140800000-201]

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Central 40 Solar 
Project, Stanislaus County, California; Categorical Exclusion and Draft 
Habitat Conservation Plan

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability of permit application; request for 


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce the 
availability of a draft categorical exclusion under the National 
Environmental Policy Act. We also announce receipt of an application 
for an incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 
and receipt of a draft habitat conservation plan. Central 40, LLC has 
applied for an incidental take permit under the ESA for the Central 40 
Solar Project in Stanislaus County, California. The permit would 
authorize the take of two species incidental to the development, 
construction, operation and maintenance, and decommissioning of the 
project. We invite the public and local, State, Tribal, and Federal 
agencies to comment on the application. Before issuing the requested 
permit, we will take into consideration any information that we receive 
during the public comment period.

DATES: We must receive your written comments on or before August 3, 

ADDRESSES: Obtaining Documents: The incidental take permit (ITP) 
application, draft categorical exclusion (draft CatEx), draft habitat 
conservation plan (draft HCP), and any comments and other materials 
that we receive are available for public inspection at http://

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www.regulations.gov in Docket No. FWS-HQ-ES-2020-0049.
    Submitting Comments: To send written comments, please use one of 
the following methods, and note that your information request or 
comments are in reference to the draft CatEx, draft HCP, or both.
     Internet: Submit comments at http://www.regulations.gov 
under Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2020-0049.
     U.S. Mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. 
FWS-R8-ES-2020-0049; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS: 
PRB/3W; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
    For more information, see Public Comments and Public Availability 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Timothy Ludwick, Senior Wildlife 
Biologist, or Patricia Cole, Chief, San Joaquin Valley Division, 
Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, by phone at 916-414-6600 or via 
the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(Service), announce the availability of a draft categorical exclusion 
(draft CatEx), prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy 
Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and its 
implementing regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 40 
CFR 1506.6. This notice also announces the receipt of an application 
from Central 40, LLC (applicant), for a 35-year incidental take permit 
(ITP) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA; 16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). Application for the permit requires the 
preparation of a habitat conservation plan (HCP) with measures to 
avoid, minimize, and mitigate the impacts of incidental take to the 
maximum extent practicable. The applicant prepared the draft Central 40 
Solar Project HCP pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA. The 
purpose of the CatEx is to assess the effects of issuing the permit and 
implementing the draft HCP on the natural and human environment.


    Section 9 of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531-1544 et seq.) prohibits the 
taking of fish and wildlife species listed as endangered under section 
4 of the ESA; by regulation, take of certain species listed as 
threatened is also prohibited. (16 U.S.C. 1533(d); 50 CFR 17.31). 
Regulations governing permits for endangered and threatened species are 
at 50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32. For more about the Federal habitat 
conservation plan (HCP) program, go to http://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/hcp.pdf.

National Environmental Policy Act Compliance

    The proposed permit issuance triggers the need for compliance with 
the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA; 42 
U.S.C. 4321 et seq.). The draft CatEx was prepared to analyze the 
impacts of issuing an ITP based on the draft HCP and to inform the 
public of the proposed action, any alternatives, and associated 
impacts, and to disclose any irreversible commitments of resources.

Proposed Action Alternative

    Under the Proposed Action Alternative, the Service would issue an 
ITP to the applicant for a period of 35 years for certain covered 
activities (described below). The applicant has requested an ITP for 
two covered species (described below), which are listed as endangered 
or threatened under the ESA.
Habitat Conservation Plan Area
    The geographic scope of the draft HCP encompasses 3,474 acres (ac) 
in western Stanislaus and Merced Counties where the development will 
occur, including the 1,044-ac parcel in Stanislaus County where 
development will occur and the 2,422-ac Piedra Azul Conservation Bank 
in Merced County, portions of which are being used to mitigate impacts 
from this development.
Covered Activities
    The proposed section 10 ITP would allow incidental take of two 
covered species from covered activities in the proposed HCP area. The 
applicant is requesting incidental take authorization for covered 
activities, including site preparation, infrastructure development, 
construction, decommissioning, and management of the conservation 
easement area. The applicant is proposing to implement a number of 
project design features, including best management practices, as well 
as general and species-specific avoidance and minimization measures to 
minimize the impacts of the take from the covered activities.
Covered Species
    The following two federally listed species are proposed to be 
included as covered species in the proposed HCP:
     San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) (Federally 
listed as endangered).
     California tiger salamander--Central Valley Distinct 
Population Segment (Ambystoma californiense) (Federally listed as 
threatened and subject to a section 4(d) rule that prohibits take, with 
the exception of incidental take resulting from routine ranching 
activities located on private or Tribal lands, as defined in the 
regulation. 50 CFR 17.43(c)).

No-Action Alternative

    Under the No-Action Alternative, the Service would not issue an ITP 
to the applicant, and the draft HCP would not be implemented. Under 
this alternative, the applicant may choose not to construct the 
facility or would do so in a manner presumed not to result in the take 
of ESA-listed species.

Public Comments

    We request data, comments, new information, or suggestions from the 
public, other concerned governmental agencies, the scientific 
community, Tribes, industry, or any other interested party on this 
notice, the draft CatEx, and the draft HCP. We particularly seek 
comments on the following:
    1. Biological information concerning the species;
    2. Relevant data concerning the species;
    3. Additional information concerning the range, distribution, 
population size, and population trends of the species;
    4. Current or planned activities in the area and their possible 
impacts on the species;
    5. The presence of archeological sites, buildings and structures, 
historic events, sacred and traditional areas, and other historic 
preservation concerns, which are required to be considered in project 
planning by the National Historic Preservation Act; and
    6. Any other environmental issues that should be considered with 
regard to the proposed development and permit action.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, or other personal 
identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your 
entire comment--including your personal identifying information--might 
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.

Next Steps

    Issuance of an incidental take permit is a Federal proposed action 
subject to

[[Page 39931]]

compliance with NEPA and section 7 of the ESA. We will evaluate the 
application, associated documents, and any public comments we receive 
as part of our NEPA compliance process to determine whether the 
application meets the requirements of section 10(a) of the ESA. If we 
determine that those requirements are met, we will conduct an intra-
Service consultation under section 7 of the ESA for the Federal action 
for the potential issuance of an ITP. If the intra-Service consultation 
confirms that issuance of the ITP will not jeopardize the continued 
existence of any endangered or threatened species, or destroy or 
adversely modify critical habitat, we will issue a permit to the 
applicant for the incidental take of the covered species.


    We publish this notice under the National Environmental Policy Act 
of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321-4347 et seq.), and its implementing 
regulations at 40 CFR 1500-1508, as well as in compliance with section 
10(c) of the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531-1544 et seq.) and 
its implementing regulations at 50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32.

Michael Fris,
Acting Field Supervisor, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 2020-14327 Filed 7-1-20; 8:45 am]