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Notice

Proposed Low Effect Habitat Conservation Plan for Michigan Electric Transmission Company, LLC

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AGENCY:

Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION:

Notice of availability.

SUMMARY:

Michigan Electric Transmission Company, LLC (Applicant) has applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for a 5-year incidental take permit for one covered species pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The application addresses the potential for “take” of the endangered Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) associated with reconductoring a 4.07-mile segment of electric power transmission line within this right-of-way segment running from east-central Muskegon County into the southwest corner of Newaygo County, Michigan. A conservation program to mitigate for the project activities would be implemented as described in the proposed Cobb to Brickyard Reconductoring Low Effect Habitat Conservation Plan (proposed Plan), which would be implemented by the Applicant. We are requesting comments on the permit application and on the preliminary determination that the proposed Plan qualifies as a “Low-Effect” Habitat Conservation Plan, eligible for a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended.

DATES:

Written data or comments should be submitted to the Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, Minnesota 55111-4056, and must be received on or before March 24, 2005.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Mr. Peter Fasbender, (612) 713-5343.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Availability of Documents

Individuals wishing copies of the application and proposed Plan should contact the Service by telephone at (612) 713-5343 or by letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office (see DATES). Copies of the proposed Plan also are available for public inspection during regular business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office (see DATES) or at the Service's Regional Web site at: http://midwest.fws.gov/​NEPA.

Background

Section 9 of the Act and its implementing Federal regulations prohibit the take of animal species listed as endangered or threatened. The definition of take under the Act includes the following activities: to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect listed animal species, or attempt to engage in such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1538). However, under section 10(a) of the Act, the Service may issue permits to authorize incidental take of listed species. “Incidental take” is defined by the Act as take that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, carrying out an otherwise lawful activity. Regulations governing incidental take permits for endangered species are found in the Code of Federal Regulations at 50 CFR 17.22.

The Applicant is seeking a permit for take of the Karner blue butterfly during the life of the permit. The project encompasses reconductoring a 4.07-mile Start Printed Page 8603segment of electric power transmission line within the right-of-way segment. All construction activities will take place within the existing 66-foot-wide utility right-of-way. The reconductoring requires the applicant to replace existing metal towers with new wooden utility poles and hang new power lines on insulators. There are 40 towers spaced between 300 and 400 feet apart that will be replaced with wooden poles. Construction activities are scheduled to occur during winter 2005 and to be completed by early spring. Incidental take will occur within the right-of-way as a result of temporary disturbance to Karner blue butterfly habitat by truck and heavy equipment traffic, cutting and removal of existing towers, boring holes for transmission line support poles, and installation of new poles. The project site does not contain any other rare, threatened, or endangered species or habitat. Critical habitat does not occur for any listed species on the project site.

The Applicant proposes to mitigate the effects to the Karner blue butterfly associated with the covered activities by fully implementing the Plan. The purpose of the proposed Plan's conservation program is to promote the biological conservation of the Karner blue butterfly. The Applicant proposes to mitigate the impacts of taking by creating an additional 1.4 acres of habitat by planting wild lupine and other nectar plants.

The Proposed Action consists of the issuance of an incidental take permit and implementation of the proposed Plan, which includes measures to mitigate impacts of the project on the Karner blue butterfly. Two alternatives to the taking of the listed species under the Proposed Action are considered in the proposed Plan. Under the No Action Alternative, no permit would be issued, and no construction would occur. Under the Alternate Route Alternative, incidental take of the Karner blue butterfly would be authorized, and the applicant would reduce the area of impact but eliminate maintenance. By eliminating maintenance of the corridor, the quality and extent of the existing Karner blue butterfly habitat would diminish through normal ecological succession.

The Service has made a preliminary determination that approval of the proposed Plan qualifies as a categorical exclusion under NEPA, as provided by the Department of the Interior Manual (516 DM 6, appendix 1, section 1.4C(2)) and as a “low-effect” plan as defined by the Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook (November 1996). Determination of Low-effect Habitat Conservation Plans is based on the following three criteria: (1) Implementation of the proposed Plan would result in minor or negligible effects on federally listed, proposed, and candidate species and their habitats; (2) implementation of the proposed Plan would result in minor or negligible effects on other environmental values or resources; and (3) impacts of the proposed Plan, considered together with the impacts of other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable similarly situated projects, would not result in cumulative effects to environmental values or resources which would be considered significant.

Based upon this preliminary determination, we do not intend to prepare further NEPA documentation. We will consider public comments in making the final determination on whether to prepare such additional documentation.

This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(c) of the Act. We will evaluate the permit application, the proposed Plan, and comments submitted thereon to determine whether the application meets the requirements of section 10(a) of the Act. If the requirements are met, we will issue a permit to Michigan Electric Transmission Company, LLC for the incidental take of the Karner blue butterfly from reconductoring of the Applicant's right-of-way in Muskegon and Newaygo Counties, Michigan.

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Dated: January 14, 2005.

T.J. Miller,

Acting Assistant Regional Director, Ecological Services, Region 3.

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[FR Doc. 05-3270 Filed 2-18-05; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4310-55-P