Streamlined environmental compliance process benefits brown pelican rookery
“Good Queen Bess” (a.k.a. Queen Elizabeth I) is credited with putting an end to a period of instability in mid-16th century England. Unfortunately, the tiny scrap of land in Louisiana that bears her name, Queen Bess Island, has been anything but stable. The island, located about two-and-a-half miles north of Grand Isle in Barataria Bay, has been sinking and eroding into the Gulf of Mexico. This is a matter of concern, as Queen Bess Island supports the third largest brown pelican rookery in Louisiana.
Less than five acres of suitable nesting and brood-rearing bird habitat remain on Queen Bess Island, so immediate action is needed to stop the erosion and build back what has been lost. Using $18.7 million of Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment settlement funds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a restoration effort aimed at adding 37 acres of prime nesting habitat will start this October. If not for a remarkable regulatory feat, project managers would have had to wait until next year to start the project.
But because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service streamlined the environmental compliance process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was able to issue a permit for the project in only two days.
The Service streamlined the regulatory process for the Queen Bess project by taking on some of the compliance review the Corps would have had to cover in their analysis of the permit application, said Erin Chandler, an environmental compliance coordinator for the Service’s Deepwater Horizon Gulf Restoration Office. “This greatly simplified the process for them. It reduced their workload, which led to a faster permit authorization,” Chandler said. “We effectively front-loaded regulatory compliance and made it easier for the Corps to conduct their permit application review.”
John Tirpak, a Service wildlife biologist, says people can’t engage in restoration efforts on Queen Bess Island while birds are nesting, which leaves only a six-month window, October through March, to get work done. “This is a reason why a speedy compliance review was so important. If the restoration work is not started before nesting begins, we would have to wait and we’d lose more of the island — and without restoration, we will lose that nesting colony within the next decade.”
In addition to being the third largest nesting colony of brown pelicans in Louisiana, Queen Bess Island is the only colony for the birds in Barataria Bay. “We need to make sure to have brown pelicans in all locations where they were historically,” said Tirpak. “So if, God forbid, a hurricane knocked out a colony, there would still be others.” He noted that Queen Bess Island was the first spot where brown pelicans were returned to Louisiana after the pesticide DDT had wiped them out in the early 1960s.
Brad LaBorde from the Corps’ New Orleans District Regulatory Branch agrees. He said that thanks to agency coordination during the pre-application stage, the Service and the Corps “were able to identify where our processes overlapped, developed a plan, and executed it accordingly. For the Corps, it saved man-hours — not days, but months — and for the Service it resulted in a timely permit decision.”
“The Deepwater Horizon Gulf Restoration Office is constantly looking for ways to maximize efficiency while still fully meeting all of our regulatory requirements,” Chandler says. “The speed with which the Queen Bess Island compliance and permitting process were completed was made possible by the Service’s strong relationships with other Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment implementing agencies. Maintaining these cooperative relationships with our restoration partners is paramount to protecting and restoring the Gulf ecosystem.”
Nadine Leavitt Siak, public affairs specialist, Gulf Restoration
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