Skip to Content

Notice

Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Operation, Maintenance, and Repair of the Northeast Gateway Liquefied Natural Gas Port and the Algonquin Pipeline Lateral Facilities in Massachusetts Bay

Document Details

Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

Published Document

This document has been published in the Federal Register. Use the PDF linked in the document sidebar for the official electronic format.

Start Preamble

AGENCY:

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION:

Notice; revised proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments.

SUMMARY:

NMFS received a revised application from Excelerate Energy, L.P. (Excelerate) and Tetra Tech, Inc. (Tetra Tech), on behalf of the Northeast Gateway® Energy BridgeTM, L.P. (Northeast Gateway or NEG) and Algonquin Gas Transmission, L.L.C. (Algonquin), for authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to operating, maintaining, and repairing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) port and the Algonquin Pipeline Lateral (Pipeline Lateral) facilities by NEG and Algonquin, in Massachusetts Bay, with changes to the proposed monitoring measures only. Due to the proposed revision, the IHA would be effective later than originally anticipated, although it still would be effective for a one-year period. NMFS is requesting comments on changes to the proposed monitoring in its proposal to issue an authorization to Northeast Gateway to incidentally take, by harassment, small numbers of marine mammals for a period of 1 year.

DATES:

Comments and information must be received no later than November 5, 2014.

ADDRESSES:

Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email comments on this action is ITP.Guan@noaa.gov. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 10-megabyte file size. A copy of the application and a list of references used in this document may be obtained by writing to this address, and is also available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications.

Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications without change. All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.

The Maritime Administration (MARAD) and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS) on the Northeast Gateway Energy Bridge LNG Deepwater Port license application is available for viewing at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Shane Guan, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401.

End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

Sections 101(a)(5)(A) (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional taking of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review.

An authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined “negligible impact” in 50 CFR 216.103 as “. . . an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.”

Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process by which citizens of the U.S. can apply for a one-year authorization to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment, provided that there is no potential for serious injury or mortality to result from the activity. Section 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45-day time limit for NMFS review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and comment period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the comment period, NMFS must either issue or deny the authorization.

Summary of Request

On January 18, 2013, NMFS received an application from Excelerate and Tetra Tech, on behalf of Northeast Gateway and Algonquin, for an authorization to take 14 species of marine mammals by Level B harassment incidental to operations, maintenance, and repair of an LNG port and the Pipeline Lateral facilities in Massachusetts Bay. They are: North Atlantic right whale, humpback whale, fin whale, sei whale, minke whale, long-finned pilot whale, Atlantic white-sided dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, short-beaked common dolphin, killer whale, Risso's dolphin, harbor porpoise, harbor Start Printed Page 60143seal, and gray seal. Since LNG Port and Pipeline Lateral operation, maintenance, and repair activities have the potential to take marine mammals, a marine mammal take authorization under the MMPA is warranted.

In response to the IHA application, NMFS published a Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA on November 18, 2013 (78 FR 69049), which included proposed mitigation and monitoring measures to minimize and monitor potential impacts to marine mammals that could result from the proposed LNG Port and Pipeline Lateral operation, maintenance, and repair activities. After the close of the public comment period, Northeast Gateway notified NMFS that it does not intend to use marine autonomous recording units (MARUs) for long-term passive acoustic monitoring (PAM), as was described in the November 18, 2013, proposed IHA Federal Register notice, the IHA application, and marine mammal monitoring plan, except under certain levels of LNG port activity, and requested NMFS to modify the monitoring measures in the proposed IHA to use alternative acoustic monitoring, with triggers for additional long-term monitoring during higher levels of LNG port activity (which would require reinstallation of MARUs).

Following discussions with NMFS' Office of Protected Resources, the NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO), and National Ocean Service's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, on June 20, 2014, Excelerate and Tetra Tech submitted a revised IHA application with tiered PAM measures corresponding to different levels of LNG Port and Pipeline Lateral operation, maintenance, and repair activities. Details of the revised PAM are discussed in this notice.

This Federal Register notice sets forth the proposed PAM measures as revised. There are no other changes to Excelerate and Tetra Tech's application or our proposed IHA as described in the November 18, 2013, Federal Register notice of a proposed IHA: the specified activity; description of marine mammals in the area of the specified activity; potential effects on marine mammals and their habitat; proposed mitigation and related monitoring used to implement mitigation; proposed reporting; estimated take by incidental harassment; negligible impact and small numbers analyses and determinations; and impact on availability of affected species or stocks for subsistence uses remain unchanged and are herein incorporated by reference. Public comments we received on those aspects of the proposed IHA during the previous 30-day public comment period will be considered before we make a final decision on whether to issue an IHA.

Proposed Revised Monitoring Measures

In order to issue an ITA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth “requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.” The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(13) indicate that requests for ITAs must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the proposed action area.

Our November 18, 2013, initial Federal Register notice of the proposed IHA described several proposed monitoring efforts: Vessel-based visual monitoring to detect marine mammals in real-time (in part to trigger mitigation measures); and two types of acoustic monitoring: 19 MARUs in Massachusetts Bay near the Port (to collect long-term data during Port and Pipeline Lateral related activities) and 10 acoustic buoys (“ABs”) in the Separation Zone of the Boston Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) to detect, in real-time, calling North Atlantic right whales within 5 nm of an AB (to assist in implementing mitigation). The proposed revisions to the monitoring plan, which are the subject of this Federal Register notice, concern only the MARU requirement. We fully retain our original proposal for the vessel-based monitoring and the 10 ABs. Please refer to the November 18, 2013, Federal Register notice for a description of those other two elements of monitoring.

MARUs—Background: Beginning in April 2007, Northeast Gateway monitored the noise environment in Massachusetts Bay in the vicinity of the NEG Port and Algonquin Pipeline Lateral using an array of 19 MARUs to collect data during the preconstruction and active construction phases of the NEG Port and Algonquin Pipeline Lateral. As a condition of the Deepwater Port License, the MARU array remained in place for a period of five years following the commissioning of the NEG Port. Previous IHAs for the NE Gateway Port and Pipeline Lateral operations included the MARUs as a monitoring requirement, as did the proposed IHA noticed in the November 18, 2013, Federal Register notice. However, the five-year stipulated period of operation of the MARU array for the NEG Port ended in February 2013. This, coupled with the transfer of operational responsibility of the MARU array to Neptune LNG, which suspended operation of their Deepwater Port on June 26, 2013, led to the removal of the MARU array in July 2013, meaning the MARUs were not available for routine acoustic monitoring after that date.

The MARUs collected archived noise data and were not designed to provide real-time or near-real-time information about vocalizing whales. The acoustic data collected by the MARUs were analyzed by the Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP) at Cornell University to document the seasonal occurrences and overall distributions of whales (primarily fin, humpback, and right whales) within approximately 10 nautical miles of the NEG Port, and to measure and document the noise “budget” of Massachusetts Bay so as to eventually assist in determining whether an overall increase in noise in the Bay associated with the NEG Port and Algonquin Pipeline Lateral might be having a potentially negative impact on marine mammals.

Northeast Gateway and Algonquin state that continued monitoring utilizing the MARU array is no longer warranted for a number of reasons:

1. The MARU array system was designed for monitoring for the maximum operational scenario with the NEG Port receiving 65 cargo deliveries per year. Anticipated deliveries to the Port during the next IHA period will be significantly smaller scale and, though dependent on market rates, will likely be confined to the winter heating season.

2. The purpose of the MARU data was principally intended to determine the daily occurrence of acoustically active fin whales, humpback whales, and right whales with nineteen MARUs deployed. A secondary purpose was to evaluate the extent to which operations sounds were evident throughout the region and the relative contribution of those sounds to the acoustic environment in the region. The majority of the MARUs were positioned at separation distances too large to meet this secondary objective. In comparison, the revised passive acoustic monitoring program described below is intended to provide empirical measurements of specific operational and maintenance events and “ground-truth” the acoustic model algorithms employed. By targeting these specific events, and positioning sensors within the water column in proximity to the Port, the resultant dataset should provide a clearer picture of the actual acoustic footprint of the Port.Start Printed Page 60144

3. The static recorders and real-time hydrophone arrays that will be employed in the revised proposed passive acoustic monitoring program (see below) are designed specifically for empirical measurement and recording of underwater sound. With National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) traceable calibration certificates for the entire measurement chain, the data will provide an absolute measurement of received sound levels, ensuring the highest degree of accuracy possible for an offshore measurement program.

Revised Proposed PAM: In place of the MARUs, Northeast Gateway developed a proposed field program to measure underwater sound during the initial Energy Bridge Regasification Vessel (EBRV) delivery for the 2014 winter season, during certain maintenance and repair, and additional long-term PAM in the vicinity of the LNG Port using devices such as MARUs if the anticipated LNG deliveries exceed 5 shipments in a 30-day period or 20 shipments in a six-month period.

The intent of the proposed PAM program is to provide better information about the acoustic footprint associated with operation of the NEG Port in Massachusetts Bay. The modeled underwater acoustic impacts presented in the IHA application relied primarily on estimated source levels derived from the similar vessels and operations. This proposed monitoring plan will measure the actual sound levels that are introduced into the underwater environment, reducing uncertainty associated with source levels used as modeling inputs for the analysis presented in this and any future IHAs.

Underwater noise monitoring will be conducted to obtain a representative acoustic signature of vessel transit, docking, maintenance, onboard regasification operational scenarios, and maintenance activities. NEG will conduct the short-term hydroacoustic monitoring to document sound levels during the initial operational event for the 2014-2015 heating season. In addition, the short-term hydroacoustic monitoring will be utilized for any maintenance or repair activities with the potential to result in significant noise levels (i.e. DP thrusters) or for any delivery that may occur outside the identified winter heating season.

Autonomous Marine Recording (AMAR) units will be deployed one day prior to the identified monitoring events and retrieved one day after these events, utilizing a vessel similar to that described for MARU deployment and retrieval. Information pertaining to forecasted delivery levels at or above the stated trigger will be provided to NEG in advance, giving adequate time for monitoring systems to be put in place prior to the first forecasted delivery event. The field monitoring program will be used to verify actual distances to thresholds and these values will be compared to the impact distances predicted from modeling.

To reiterate, the remaining proposed monitoring measures, including vessel-based visual monitoring and the real-time autonomous buoys (ABs), are the same as described in the initial Federal Register notice (78 FR 69049; November 18, 2013) for the proposed IHA. Moreover, these proposed changes will have no bearing on the specified activity, its impacts, and our proposed mitigation and mitigation-related monitoring requirements.

Proposed Reporting Measures

As indicated above, no changes are proposed to the reporting measures described in the initial Federal Register notice of the proposed IHA (78 FR 69049; November 18, 2013). However, NMFS has requested that Northeast Gateway make all acoustic data collected by the MARUs during prior construction, operations, and maintenance and repair activities available to NOAA.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

Our November 18, 2013, Federal Register notice of proposed IHA described the history and status of Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance for the NE Gateway LNG facility. As explained in that notice, the biological opinions for construction and operation of the facility only analyzed ESA-listed species for activities under the initial short construction period and during operations, and did not take into consideration potential impacts to marine mammals that could result from the subsequent LNG Port and Pipeline Lateral maintenance and repair activities. In addition, NEG also revealed that significantly more water usage and vessel operating air emissions are needed from what was originally evaluated for the LNG Port operation. NMFS PR1 initiated consultation with NMFS Greater Atlantic Region Fisheries Office under section 7 of the ESA on the issuance of an IHA to NEG under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA for the proposed activities that include increased NEG Port and Algonquin Pipeline Lateral maintenance and repair and water usage for the LNG Port operations this activity. Consultation will be concluded prior to a determination on the issuance of an IHA.

National Environmental Policy Act

Our November 18, 2013, Federal Register notice of proposed IHA described the history and status of National Environmental Policy Act compliance for the NE Gateway LNG facility. Please refer to that notice.

Proposed Incidental Harassment Authorization

Our November 18, 2013, Federal Register notice provided a draft of the IHA itself. Here we provide the language of the proposed IHA with the proposed revisions to the monitoring measures. No other changes have been made.

(1) This Authorization is valid from November 1, 2014, through October 31, 2015.

(2) This Authorization is valid only for activities associated with Northeast Gateway's LNG Port and Algonquin's Pipeline Lateral operations and maintenance and repair activities in the Massachusetts Bay. The specific area of the activities is shown in Figure 2-1 of the Excelerate Energy, L.P. and Tetra Tech, Inc.'s IHA application.

(3)(a) The species authorized for incidental harassment takings, Level B harassment only, are: right whales (Eubalaena glacialis); fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus); humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae); minke whales (B. acutorostrata); sei whales (B. borealis); long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas); Atlantic white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus); bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus); short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis); Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus); killer whales (Orcinus orca); harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena); harbor seals (Phoca vitulina); and gray seals (Halichoerus grypus).

(3)(b) The authorization for taking by harassment is limited to the following acoustic sources and from the following activities:

(i) NEG Port operations;

(ii) NEG Port maintenance and repair; and

(iii) Algonquin Pipeline Lateral operations and maintenance.

(3)(c) The taking of any marine mammal in a manner prohibited under this Authorization must be reported within 24 hours of the taking to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Northeast Regional Administrator (978-281-9300) or his designee (978-282-8468), NMFS Headquarter Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at (301-427-8401), or his designee (301-427-8418).Start Printed Page 60145

(4) Prohibitions

(a) The taking, by incidental harassment only, is limited to the species listed under condition 3(a) above and by the numbers listed in Table 3. The taking by Level A harassment, injury or death of these species or the taking by harassment, injury or death of any other species of marine mammal is prohibited and may result in the modification, suspension, or revocation of this Authorization.

(b) The taking of any marine mammal is prohibited whenever the required mitigation measures under (5) of this authorization are not implemented.

(5) Mitigation

(a) General Marine Mammal Avoidance Measures

(i) All vessels shall utilize the International Maritime Organization (IMO)-approved Boston Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) on their approach to and departure from the NEG Port and/or the repair/maintenance area at the earliest practicable point of transit in order to avoid the risk of whale strikes.

(ii) Upon entering the TSS and areas where North Atlantic right whales are known to occur, including the Great South Channel Seasonal Management Area (GSC-SMA) and the SBNMS, the EBRV shall go into “Heightened Awareness” as described below.

(A) Prior to entering and navigating the modified TSS the Master of the vessel shall:

(I) Consult Navigational Telex (NAVTEX), NOAA Weather Radio, the NOAA Right Whale Sighting Advisory System (SAS) or other means to obtain current right whale sighting information as well as the most recent Cornell acoustic monitoring buoy data for the potential presence of marine mammals;

(II) Post a look-out to visually monitor for the presence of marine mammals;

(III) Provide the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) required 96-hour notification of an arriving EBRV to allow the NEG Port Manager to notify Cornell of vessel arrival.

(B) The look-out shall concentrate his/her observation efforts within the 2-mile radius zone of influence (ZOI) from the maneuvering EBRV.

(C) If marine mammal detection was reported by NAVTEX, NOAA Weather Radio, SAS and/or an acoustic monitoring buoy, the look-out shall concentrate visual monitoring efforts towards the areas of the most recent detection.

(D) If the look-out (or any other member of the crew) visually detects a marine mammal within the 2-mile radius ZOI of a maneuvering EBRV, he/she will take the following actions:

(I) The Officer-of-the-Watch shall be notified immediately; who shall then relay the sighting information to the Master of the vessel to ensure action(s) can be taken to avoid physical contact with marine mammals.

(II) The sighting shall be recorded in the sighting log by the designated look-out.

(iii) In accordance with 50 CFR 224.103(c), all vessels associated with NEG Port and Pipeline Lateral activities shall not approach closer than 500 yards (460 m) to a North Atlantic right whale and 100 yards (91 m) to other whales to the extent physically feasible given navigational constraints. In addition, when approaching and departing the project area, vessels shall be operated so as to remain at least 1 km away from any visually-detected North Atlantic right whales.

(iv) In response to active right whale sightings and active acoustic detections, and taking into account exceptional circumstances, EBRVs, repair and maintenance vessels shall take appropriate actions to minimize the risk of striking whales. Specifically vessels shall:

(A) Respond to active right whale sightings and/or DMAs reported on the Mandatory Ship Reporting (MSR) or SAS by concentrating monitoring efforts towards the area of most recent detection and reducing speed to 10 knots or less if the vessel is within the boundaries of a DMA (50 CFR 224.105) or within the circular area centered on an area 8 nm in radius from a sighting location;

(B) Respond to active acoustic detections by concentrating monitoring efforts towards the area of most recent detection and reducing speed to 10 knots or less within an area 5 nm in radius centered on the detecting AB; and

(C) Respond to additional sightings made by the designated look-outs within a 2-mile radius of the vessel by slowing the vessel to 10 knots or less and concentrating monitoring efforts towards the area of most recent sighting.

(v) All vessels operated under NEG and Algonquin must follow the established specific speed restrictions when calling at the NEG Port. The specific speed restrictions required for all vessels (i.e., EBRVs and vessels associated with maintenance and repair) consist of the following:

(A) Vessels shall reduce their maximum transit speed while in the TSS from 12 knots or less to 10 knots or less from March 1 to April 30 in all waters bounded by straight lines connecting the following points in the order stated below unless an emergency situation dictates for an alternate speed. This area shall hereafter be referred to as the Off Race Point Seasonal Management Area (ORP-SMA) and tracks NMFS regulations at 50 CFR 224.105: 42°30′ N 70°30′ W, 41°40′ N 69°57′ W, 42°30′ N 69°45′ W, 42°12′ N 70°15′ W, 41°40′ N 69°45′ W, 42°12′ N 70°30′ W, 42°04.8′ N 70°10′ W, 42°30′ N 70°30′ W.

(B) Vessels shall reduce their maximum transit speed while in the TSS to 10 knots or less unless an emergency situation dictates for an alternate speed from April 1 to July 31 in all waters bounded by straight lines connecting the following points in the order stated below. This area shall hereafter be referred to as the GSC-SMA and tracks NMFS regulations at 50 CFR 224.105: 42°30′ N 69°45′ W, 41°40′ N 69°45′ W, 42°30′ N 67°27′ W, 42°30′ N 69°45′ W, 42°09′ N 67°08.4′ W, 41°00′ N 69°05′ W.

(C) Vessels are not expected to transit the Cape Cod Bay or the Cape Cod Canal; however, in the event that transit through the Cape Cod Bay or the Cape Cod Canal is required, vessels shall reduce maximum transit speed to 10 knots or less from January 1 to May 15 in all waters in Cape Cod Bay, extending to all shorelines of Cape Cod Bay, with a northern boundary of 42°12′ N latitude and the Cape Cod Canal. This area shall hereafter be referred to as the Cape Cod Bay Seasonal Management Area (CCB-SMA).

(D) All Vessels transiting to and from the project area shall report their activities to the mandatory reporting Section of the USCG to remain apprised of North Atlantic right whale movements within the area. All vessels entering and exiting the MSRA shall report their activities to WHALESNORTH. Vessel operators shall contact the USCG by standard procedures promulgated through the Notice to Mariner system.

(E) All Vessels greater than or equal to 300 gross tons (GT) shall maintain a speed of 10 knots or less, unless an emergency situation requires speeds greater than 10 knots.

(F) All Vessels less than 300 GT traveling between the shore and the project area that are not generally restricted to 10 knots will contact the Mandatory Ship Reporting (MSR) system, the USCG, or the project site before leaving shore for reports of active DMAs and/or recent right whale sightings and, consistent with navigation safety, restrict speeds to 10 knots or less within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of any sighting location, Start Printed Page 60146when traveling in any of the seasonal management areas (SMAs) or when traveling in any active dynamic management area (DMA).

(b) NEG Port-Specific Operations

(i) In addition to the general marine mammal avoidance requirements identified in (5)(a) above, vessels calling on the NEG Port must comply with the following additional requirements:

(A) EBRVs shall travel at 10 knots maximum speed when transiting to/from the TSS or to/from the NEG Port/Pipeline Lateral area. For EBRVs, at 1.86 miles (3 km) from the NEG Port, speed will be reduced to 3 knots and to less than 1 knot at 1,640 ft (500 m) from the NEG buoys, unless an emergency situation dictates the need for an alternate speed.

(B) EBRVs that are approaching or departing from the NEG Port and are within the ATBA5 surrounding the NEG Port, shall remain at least 1 km away from any visually-detected North Atlantic right whale and at least 100 yards (91 m) away from all other visually-detected whales unless an emergency situation requires that the vessel stay its course. During EBRV maneuvering, the Vessel Master shall designate at least one look-out to be exclusively and continuously monitoring for the presence of marine mammals at all times while the EBRV is approaching or departing from the NEG Port.

(C) During NEG Port operations, in the event that a whale is visually observed within 1 km of the NEG Port or a confirmed acoustic detection is reported on either of the two ABs closest to the NEG Port (western-most in the TSS array), departing EBRVs shall delay their departure from the NEG Port, unless an emergency situation requires that departure is not delayed. This departure delay shall continue until either the observed whale has been visually (during daylight hours) confirmed as more than 1 km from the NEG Port or 30 minutes have passed without another confirmed detection either acoustically within the acoustic detection range of the two ABs closest to the NEG Port, or visually within 1 km from the NEG Port.

(ii) Vessel captains shall focus on reducing dynamic positioning (DP) thruster power to the maximum extent practicable, taking into account vessel and Port safety, during the operation activities. Vessel captains will shut down thrusters whenever they are not needed.

(c) Planned and Unplanned Maintenance and Repair Activities

(i) NEG Port

(A) The Northeast Gateway shall conduct empirical source level measurements on all noise emitting construction equipment and all vessels that are involved in maintenance/repair work.

(B) If dynamic positioning (DP) systems are to be employed and/or activities will emit noise with a source level of 139 dB re 1 μPa at 1 m, activities shall be conducted in accordance with the requirements for DP systems listed in (5)(b)(ii).

(C) Northeast Gateway shall provide the NMFS Headquarters Office of the Protected Resources, NMFS Northeast Region Ship Strike Coordinator, and SBNMS with a minimum of 30 days notice prior to any planned repair and/or maintenance activity. For any unplanned/emergency repair/maintenance activity, Northeast Gateway shall notify the agencies as soon as it determines that repair work must be conducted. Northeast Gateway shall continue to keep the agencies apprised of repair work plans as further details (e.g., the time, location, and nature of the repair) become available. A final notification shall be provided to agencies 72 hours prior to crews being deployed into the field.

(ii) Pipeline Lateral

(A) Pipeline maintenance/repair vessels less than 300 GT traveling between the shore and the maintenance/repair area that are not generally restricted to 10 knots shall contact the MSR system, the USCG, or the project site before leaving shore for reports of active DMAs and/or recent right whale sightings and, consistent with navigation safety, restrict speeds to 10 knots or less within 5 miles (8 km) of any sighting location, when travelling in any of the seasonal management areas (SMAs) as defined above.

(B) Maintenance/repair vessels greater than 300 GT shall not exceed 10 knots, unless an emergency situation that requires speeds greater than 10 knots.

(C) Planned maintenance and repair activities shall be restricted to the period between May 1 and November 30.

(D) Unplanned/emergency maintenance and repair activities shall be conducted utilizing anchor-moored dive vessel whenever operationally possible.

(E) Algonquin shall also provide the NMFS Office of the Protected Resources, NMFS Northeast Region Ship Strike Coordinator, and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) with a minimum of 30-day notice prior to any planned repair and/or maintenance activity. For any unplanned/emergency repair/maintenance activity, Northeast Gateway shall notify the agencies as soon as it determines that repair work must be conducted. Algonquin shall continue to keep the agencies apprised of repair work plans as further details (e.g., the time, location, and nature of the repair) become available. A final notification shall be provided to agencies 72 hours prior to crews being deployed into the field.

(F) If dynamic positioning (DP) systems are to be employed and/or activities will emit noise with a source level of 139 dB re 1 μPa at 1 m, activities shall be conducted in accordance with the requirements for DP systems listed in (5)(b)(ii).

(G) In the event that a whale is visually observed within 0.5 mile (0.8 kilometers) of a repair or maintenance vessel, the vessel superintendent or on-deck supervisor shall be notified immediately. The vessel's crew shall be put on a heightened state of alert and the marine mammal shall be monitored constantly to determine if it is moving toward the repair or maintenance area.

(H) Repair/maintenance vessel(s) must cease any movement and/or cease all activities that emit noises with source level of 139 dB re 1 μPa @ 1 m or higher when a right whale is sighted within or approaching at 500 yd (457 m) from the vessel. Repair and maintenance work may resume after the marine mammal is positively reconfirmed outside the established zones (500 yd [457 m]) or 30 minutes have passed without a redetection. Any vessels transiting the maintenance area, such as barges or tugs, must also maintain these separation distances.

(I) Repair/maintenance vessel(s) must cease any movement and/or cease all activities that emit noises with source level of 139 dB re 1 μPa @ 1 m or higher when a marine mammal other than a right whale is sighted within or approaching at 100 yd (91 m) from the vessel. Repair and maintenance work may resume after the marine mammal is positively reconfirmed outside the established zones (100 yd [91 m]) or 30 minutes have passed without a redetection. Any vessels transiting the maintenance area, such as barges or tugs, must also maintain these separation distances.

(J) Algonquin and associated contractors shall also comply with the following:

(I) Operations involving excessively noisy equipment (source level Start Printed Page 60147exceeding 139 dB re 1 μPa @ 1 m) shall “ramp-up” sound sources, allowing whales a chance to leave the area before sounds reach maximum levels. In addition, Northeast Gateway, Algonquin, and other associated contractors shall maintain equipment to manufacturers' specifications, including any sound-muffling devices or engine covers in order to minimize noise effects. Noisy construction equipment shall only be used as needed and equipment shall be turned off when not in operation.

(II) Any material that has the potential to entangle marine mammals (e.g., anchor lines, cables, rope or other construction debris) shall only be deployed as needed and measures shall be taken to minimize the chance of entanglement.

(III) For any material that has the potential to entangle marine mammals, such material shall be removed from the water immediately unless such action jeopardizes the safety of the vessel and crew as determined by the Captain of the vessel.

(IV) In the event that a marine mammal becomes entangled, the marine mammal coordinator and/or PSO will notify NMFS (if outside the SBNMS), and SBNMS staff (if inside the SBNMS) immediately so that a rescue effort may be initiated.

(K) All maintenance/repair activities shall be scheduled to occur between May 1 and November 30; however, in the event of unplanned/emergency repair work that cannot be scheduled during the preferred May through November work window, the following additional measures shall be followed for Pipeline Lateral maintenance and repair related activities between December and April:

(I) Between December 1 and April 30, if on-board PSOs do not have at least 0.5-mile visibility, they shall call for a shutdown. At the time of shutdown, the use of thrusters must be minimized. If there are potential safety problems due to the shutdown, the captain will decide what operations can safely be shut down.

(II) Prior to leaving the dock to begin transit, the barge shall contact one of the PSOs on watch to receive an update of sightings within the visual observation area. If the PSO has observed a North Atlantic right whale within 30 minutes of the transit start, the vessel shall hold for 30 minutes and again get a clearance to leave from the PSOs on board. PSOs shall assess whale activity and visual observation ability at the time of the transit request to clear the barge for release.

(III) Transit route, destination, sea conditions and any marine mammal sightings/mitigation actions during watch shall be recorded in the log book. Any whale sightings within 1,000 m of the vessel shall result in a high alert and slow speed of 4 knots or less and a sighting within 750 m shall result in idle speed and/or ceasing all movement.

(IV) The material barges and tugs used in repair and maintenance shall transit from the operations dock to the work sites during daylight hours when possible provided the safety of the vessels is not compromised. Should transit at night be required, the maximum speed of the tug shall be 5 knots.

(V) All repair vessels must maintain a speed of 10 knots or less during daylight hours. All vessels shall operate at 5 knots or less at all times within 5 km of the repair area.

(d) Acoustic Monitoring Related Activities

(i) Vessels associated with maintaining the AB network operating as part of the mitigation/monitoring protocols shall adhere to the following speed restrictions and marine mammal monitoring requirements.

(A) In accordance with NOAA Regulation 50 CFR 224.103 (c), all vessels associated with NEG Port activities shall not approach closer than 500 yards (460 meters) to a North Atlantic right whale.

(B) All vessels shall obtain the latest DMA or right whale sighting information via the NAVTEX, MSR, SAS, NOAA Weather Radio, or other available means prior to operations to determine if there are right whales present in the operational area.

(6) Monitoring

(a) Vessel-Based Visual Monitoring

(i) Vessel-based monitoring for marine mammals shall be done by trained look-outs during NEG LNG Port and Pipeline Lateral operations and maintenance and repair activities. The observers shall monitor the occurrence of marine mammals near the vessels during LNG Port and Pipeline Lateral related activities. Lookout duties include watching for and identifying marine mammals; recording their numbers, distances, and reactions to the activities; and documenting “take by harassment”.

(ii) The vessel look-outs assigned to visually monitor for the presence of marine mammals and shall be provided with the following:

(A) Recent NAVTEX, NOAA Weather Radio, SAS and/or acoustic monitoring buoy detection data;

(B) Binoculars to support observations;

(C) Marine mammal detection guide sheets; and

(D) Sighting log.

(b) NEG LNG Port Operations

(i) All individuals onboard the EBRVs responsible for the navigation duties and any other personnel that could be assigned to monitor for marine mammals shall receive training on marine mammal sighting/reporting and vessel strike avoidance measures.

(ii) While an EBRV is navigating within the designated TSS, there shall be three people with look-out duties on or near the bridge of the ship including the Master, the Officer-of-the-Watch and the Helmsman-on-watch. In addition to the standard watch procedures, while the EBRV is transiting within the designated TSS, maneuvering within the Area to be Avoided (ATBA), and/or while actively engaging in the use of thrusters, an additional look-out shall be designated to exclusively and continuously monitor for marine mammals.

(iii) All sightings of marine mammals by the designated look-out, individuals posted to navigational look-out duties and/or any other crew member while the EBRV is transiting within the TSS, maneuvering within the ATBA and/or when actively engaging in the use of thrusters, shall be immediately reported to the Officer-of-the-Watch who shall then alert the Master. The Master or Officer-of-the-Watch shall ensure the required reporting procedures are followed and the designated marine mammal look-out records all pertinent information relevant to the sighting.

(iv) Visual sightings made by look-outs from the EBRVs shall be recorded using a standard sighting log form. Estimated locations shall be reported for each individual and/or group of individuals categorized by species when known. This data shall be entered into a database and a summary of monthly sighting activity shall be provided to NMFS. Estimates of take and copies of these log sheets shall also be included in the reports to NMFS.

(c) Planned and Unplanned Maintenance and Repair

(i) Two (2) qualified and NMFS-approved protected species observers (PSOs) shall be assigned to each vessel that will use dynamic positioning (DP) systems during maintenance and repair related activities. PSOs shall operate individually in designated shifts to accommodate adequate rest schedules. Additional PSOs shall be assigned to additional vessels if auto-detection buoy Start Printed Page 60148(AB) data indicates that sound levels exceed 120 dB re 1 µPa, further than 100 meters (328 feet) from these vessels.

(ii) All PSOs shall receive NMFS-approved marine mammal observer training and be approved in advance by NMFS after review of their resume. All PSOs shall have direct field experience on marine mammal vessels and/or aerial surveys in the Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico.

(iii) PSOs (one primary and one secondary) shall be responsible for visually locating marine mammals at the ocean's surface and, to the extent possible, identifying the species. The primary PSO shall act as the identification specialist and the secondary PSO will serve as data recorder and also assist with identification. Both PSOs shall have responsibility for monitoring for the presence of marine mammals and sea turtles. Specifically PSO's shall:

(A) Monitor at all hours of the day, scanning the ocean surface by eye for a minimum of 40 minutes every hour.

(B) Monitor the area where maintenance and repair work is conducted beginning at daybreak using 25x power binoculars and/or hand-held binoculars. Night vision devices must be provided as standard equipment for monitoring during low-light hours and at night.

(C) Conduct general 360° visual monitoring during any given watch period and target scanning by the observer shall occur when alerted of a whale presence.

(D) Alert the vessel superintendent or construction crew supervisor of visual detections within 2 miles (3.31 kilometers) immediately.

(E) Record all sightings on marine mammal field sighting logs. Specifically, all data shall be entered at the time of observation, notes of activities will be kept, and a daily report prepared and attached to the daily field sighting log form. The basic reporting requirements include the following:

  • Beaufort sea state;
  • Wind speed;
  • Wind direction;
  • Temperature;
  • Precipitation;
  • Glare;
  • Percent cloud cover;
  • Number of animals;
  • Species;
  • Position;
  • Distance;
  • Behavior;
  • Direction of movement; and
  • Apparent reaction to construction activity.

(iv) In the event that a whale is visually observed within the 2-mile (3.31-kilometers) zone of influence (ZOI) of a DP vessel or other construction vessel that has shown to emit noise with source level in excess of 139 dB re 1 µPa @1 m, the PSO will notify the repair/maintenance construction crew to minimize the use of thrusters until the animal has moved away, unless there are divers in the water or an ROV is deployed.

(d) Acoustic Monitoring

(i) Northeast Gateway shall deploy 10 ABs within the Separation Zone of the TSS for the operational life of the Project.

(ii) The ABs shall be used to detect a calling North Atlantic right whale an average of 5 nm from each AB. The AB system shall be the primary detection mechanism that alerts the EBRV Master to the occurrence of right whales, heightens EBRV awareness, and triggers necessary mitigation actions as described in section (5) above.

(iii) Northeast Gateway shall conduct short-term passive acoustic monitoring to document sound levels during the initial operational events in the 2014-2015 winter heating season, and during both regular deliveries outside the winter heating season should such deliveries occur, and during scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and repair activities.

(iv) Northeast Gateway shall conduct long-term monitoring of the noise environment in Massachusetts Bay in the vicinity of the NEG Port and Pipeline Lateral using marine autonomous recording units (MARUs) when there is anticipated to be more than 5 LNG shipments in a 30-day period or over 20 shipments in a six-month period.

(v) The acoustic data collected in 6(d)(ii) shall be analyzed to document the seasonal occurrences and overall distributions of whales (primarily fin, humpback and right whales) within approximately 10 nm of the NEG Port and shall measure and document the noise “budget” of Massachusetts Bay so as to eventually assist in determining whether or not an overall increase in noise in the Bay associated with the Project might be having a potentially negative impact on marine mammals.

(vi) Northeast Gateway shall make all acoustic data, including data previously collected by the MARUs during prior construction, operations, and maintenance and repair activities, available to NOAA. Data storage will be the responsibility of NOAA.

(e) Acoustic Whale Detection and Response Plan

(i) NEG Port Operations

(A) Ten (10) ABs that have been deployed since 2007 shall be used to continuously screen the low-frequency acoustic environment (less than 1,000 Hertz) for right whale contact calls occurring within an approximately 5-nm radius from each buoy (the AB's detection range).

(B) Once a confirmed detection is made, the Master of any EBRVs operating in the area will be alerted immediately.

(ii) NEG Port and Pipeline Lateral Planned and Unplanned/Emergency Repair and Maintenance Activities.

(A) If the repair/maintenance work is located outside of the detectible range of the 10 project area ABs, Northeast Gateway and Algonquin shall consult with NOAA (NMFS and SBNMS) to determine if the work to be conducted warrants the temporary installation of an additional AB(s) to help detect and provide early warnings for potential occurrence of right whales in the vicinity of the repair area.

(B) The number of ABs installed around the activity site shall be commensurate with the type and spatial extent of maintenance/repair work required, but must be sufficient to detect vocalizing right whales within the 120-dB impact zone.

(C) Should acoustic monitoring be deemed necessary during a planned or unplanned/emergency repair and/or maintenance event, active monitoring for right whale calls shall begin 24 hours prior to the start of activities.

(D) Revised noise level data from the acoustic recording units deployed in the NEG Port and/or Pipeline Lateral maintenance and repair area shall be provided to NMFS.

(7) Reporting

(a) Throughout NEG Port and Pipeline Lateral operations, Northeast Gateway and Algonquin shall provide a monthly Monitoring Report. The Monitoring Report shall include:

(i) Both copies of the raw visual EBRV lookout sighting information of marine mammals that occurred within 2 miles of the EBRV while the vessel transits within the TSS, maneuvers within the ATBA, and/or when actively engaging in the use of thrusters, and a summary of the data collected by the look-outs over each reporting period.

(ii) Copies of the raw PSO sightings information on marine mammals gathered during pipeline repair or maintenance activities. This visual sighting data shall then be correlated to Start Printed Page 60149periods of thruster activity to provide estimates of marine mammal takes (per species/species class) that took place during each reporting period.

(iii) Conclusion of any planned or unplanned/emergency repair and/or maintenance period, a report shall be submitted to NMFS summarizing the repair/maintenance activities, marine mammal sightings (both visual and acoustic), empirical source-level measurements taken during the repair work, and any mitigation measures taken.

(b) During the maintenance and repair of NEG Port components, weekly status reports shall be provided to NOAA (both NMFS and SBNMS) using standardized reporting forms. The weekly reports shall include data collected for each distinct marine mammal species observed in the repair/maintenance area during the period that maintenance and repair activities were taking place. The weekly reports shall include the following information:

(i) Location (in longitude and latitude coordinates), time, and the nature of the maintenance and repair activities;

(ii) Indication of whether a DP system was operated, and if so, the number of thrusters being used and the time and duration of DP operation;

(iii) Marine mammals observed in the area (number, species, age group, and initial behavior);

(iv) The distance of observed marine mammals from the maintenance and repair activities;

(v) Changes, if any, in marine mammal behaviors during the observation;

(vi) A description of any mitigation measures (power-down, shutdown, etc.) implemented;

(vii) Weather condition (Beaufort sea state, wind speed, wind direction, ambient temperature, precipitation, and percent cloud cover etc.);

(viii) Condition of the observation (visibility and glare); and

(ix) Details of passive acoustic detections and any action taken in response to those detections.

(d) Injured/Dead Protected Species Reporting

(i) In the unanticipated event that survey operations clearly cause the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by the proposed IHA, such as an injury (Level A harassment), serious injury or mortality (e.g., ship-strike, gear interaction, and/or entanglement), NEG and/or Algonquin shall immediately cease activities and immediately report the incident to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401 and/or by email to Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and Shane.Guan@noaa.gov and the Northeast Regional Stranding Coordinators (Mendy.Garron@noaa.gov) or by phone at 978-281-9300. The report must include the following information:

(A) Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the incident;

(B) The name and type of vessel involved;

(C) The vessel's speed during and leading up to the incident;

(D) Description of the incident;

(E) Status of all sound source use in the 24 hours preceding the incident;

(F) Water depth;

(G) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);

(H) Description of marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident;

(I) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved;

(J) The fate of the animal(s); and

(K) Photographs or video footage of the animal (if equipment is available).

Activities shall not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS shall work with NEG and/or Algonquin to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. NEG and/or Algonquin may not resume their activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone.

(ii) In the event that NEG and/or Algonquin discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a moderate state of decomposition as described in the next paragraph), NEG and/or Algonquin will immediately report the incident to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401, and/or by email to Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and Shane.Guan@noaa.gov and the NMFS Northeast Stranding Coordinators (Mendy.Garron@noaa.gov) or by phone at 978-281-9300, within 24 hours of the discovery. The report must include the same information identified above. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with NEG and/or Algonquin to determine whether modifications in the activities are appropriate.

(iii) In the event that NEG or Algonquin discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized (if the IHA is issued) (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), NEG and/or Algonquin shall report the incident to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401, and/or by email to Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and Shane.Guan@noaa.gov and the NMFS Northeast Stranding Coordinators (Mendy.Garron@noaa.gov) or by phone at 978-281-9300, within 24 hours of the discovery. NEG and/or Algonquin shall provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. NEG and/or Algonquin can continue its operations under such a case.

Request for Public Comments

NMFS requests comment on the revised proposed PAM monitoring for NMFS proposed IHA for Northeast Gateway's LNG Port and Pipeline Lateral operations and maintenance and repair activities, as described in this notice and in Tetratech's June 20, 2014, application (see ADDRESSES). Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final decision.

Start Signature

Dated: September 30, 2014.

Donna Wieting,

Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service.

End Signature End Supplemental Information

[FR Doc. 2014-23764 Filed 10-3-14; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3510-22-P