Sunday, May 1, 2011

Response to FWS Biological Opinion on Briger/Scripps permit from Army Corps of Engineers

[The following letter (with some minor modifications) was sent to Eric Reusch of the Army Corps of Engineers . The response is in the process of being updated.]

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Eric,
I am writing on behalf of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (PBCEC) to express support and agreement with the email below, sent by Rachel Kijewski. I share the concerns expressed regarding impacts to Eastern Indigo Snakes and Wood Storks, as well as others related to impacts on regional waterways, including but not limited to the Lake Worth Lagoon/Intercoastal Waterway."

We are still in the process of reviewing the Biological Opinion of the FWS and the Army Corps permit in general. I want to be sure that you know our concerns are not limited to the two species identified in the letter below.

On behalf of the PBCEC, i am also requesting a public hearing where these concerns can be addressed in a manor open and accessible to the public.

Please respond via email to confirm that you have received this letter.

Thank you,
Panagioti Tsolkas
Co-Chair, PBCEC


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rachel Kijewski
Date: Thu, Apr 21, 2011 at 1:35 PM
Subject: Response to FWS Biological Opinion Request for Public Hearing
RE: Scripps Briger

US Army Corps of Engineers
4400 PGA Boulevard, Suite 500
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410
Office 561-472-3529 Fax 561-626-6971

Dear Eric,

Below is a formal response to the Service's Biological Opinion. Please forward it to the proper authorities if there are others than yourself that need it or if you can, please e-mail me their information.

xxx

My name is Rachel Kijewski of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (PBCEC). I have reviewed the Biological Opinion (BO) released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) regarding the proposed Scripps Briger Development of Regional Impact (DRI) and am formally requesting a public hearing on the project. Based on the data in the BO I have reason to believe that the Service collected insufficient data regarding the presence of Eastern Indigo Snakes (EIS) on the Scripps Briger site and because of this may violate the Incidental Take Limits. I believe insufficient amounts of data were collected for the following reasons:

(1) Both the site visits by the applicant & the Service (Jan 12th 2010 & Feb 8th 2010) were not conducted during the EIS's peak season activity which are fall and summer. During Jan 12th and Feb 8th south Florida was in its winter cycle. 2010 was also a severe winter for south Florida and this may have drastically reduced the sightings of EIS. By failing to conduct a site visit during the summer, the Service, the applicants and Corp failed to visit during egg laying and hatchling time, again reducing their chances of finding EIS.

(2) The data used to estimate the actual presence of EIS on the property is not comparable to the Scripps Briger site; therefore the chances of EIS occurrence may be much higher. In the BO, EIS prime habitat is pine flatwoods, scrubby flatwoods etc. The BO states that Briger is "moderately suitable habitat."

"...forested portions of the site provide ample cover for both eastern indigo snakes and their pray." Pg. 8 pgph 3)

The two habitats used to estimate the amount of EIS on Briger were the native altered habitats at ABS and sugar cane field in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) A-1 Reservoir Project site.

"There is uncertainty around these estimates because they were not based on similar types of habitat but the study sites were located in similar latitudes in Florida. As this is the best data available, we believe the comparisons are valid and represent a conservative approach." (pg. 7 pgph 3)

Not only were they not similar habitats, but according to the BO they were not as suitable of habitat for EIS as Briger was. This lack of trust in the comparison by the Service using the studies as a comparison demonstrates a lack of thorough investigation of EIS on the Scripps Briger site and a lack of suitably comparable sites.

(3) It is concerning that at the Palm Beach Gardens (PBG) City Council 2010 Quasi-Judicial hearing on April 1st regarding the Scripps Briger site that the evidence presented stated that no EIS were found. The BO however presented a different story.

"While on site, the dog signaled the possible presence of a snake in a gopher tortoise burrow: however the burrow was not scoped to confirm presence." (Pg 7 pgph 1)

"On the particular survey, the dog showed interest in several areas on the eastern portion on the site. However we were not permitted to bring the dog into the pasture and barn area per the lessee's request." (Pg. 9 pgph 2)

"The positive indications from the detector dog supports the Services belief that the entire site could be used by indigo snakes."
(pg. 9 pgph 2)

There is a possibility that PBG city council was not given an honest account of EIS presence, were not given the impression that there was a high expectation of EIS on the property, and that the potential evidence to prove EIS existence on the Scripps Briger site was not collected fully, or in a proper manner.

(4) Another concern is the duration of validated time the Corps, FWS and applicant spent on looking for EIS. Since FWS has "not officially adopted" the survey methodology of using a trained animal to detect and alert the handler of Indigo Snakes presence, this data should not be usable toward the time spend on searching out EIS. That means that only a single day was put into scanning 681.69 acres of property, of which parts were scanned, is also unclear in the BO.

(5) We have on record (can provide on request) that the applicant sited 65 Gopher Tortoise burrows. It is unclear why the amount of burrows was left out of the BO, as EIS are known to reside in them.

"The consultants also reported several gopher tortoise burrows on site, in which indigo snakes are known to reside. However the dependence on these burrows is thought to be less in South Florida." (Pg. 9 pgph 1)

No references were provided to prove that dependence on burrows is less in South Florida; therefore the Service has failed to provide evidence that it is in fact less and not based on speculation.

(6) From the BO it appears that habitat loss is the number one threat to EIS. If this is so, even .05% (which is the approximate equation of EIS habitat Briger encompasses) loss of habitat for a federally listed as threatened species is important to its survival. There is insufficient evidence that the loss of Briger will not impact the population of EIS.

We also have concerns regarding the federally-listed Wood Storks impacted by the project, including but not limited to:

(1) Briger is within a Core Foraging Area (CFA) of a Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) rookery. The BO is not clear as to what part of Briger that the CFA covers and how development will impact the CFA.

(2) Enclosed is a document titled Impacts to Listed Species and Threatened Habitat on Proposed Scripps Phase II Development which was produced by citizen surveyors of PBCEC in the winter of 2010. Although not a federally listed species, the hand fern (Ophioglossum Palmatum) is a state listed endangered species of Florida. Citizen
surveyors documented over 50 colonies of hand ferns on the Briger site whereas ESI Consultants documented finding only 2. This massive discrepancy in the finding of a single species is alarming and could indicate the lack of thoroughness that ESI consultants conducted their surveys of federally listed species as well.

Due to these concerns above, I feel there is a lack of evidence demonstrating thorough investigation of the Scripps Briger action area. Please hold a public hearing on the Scripps Briger plan and I am requesting an Environmental Impact Statement to be conducted on the site before the Corps moves further.


Sincerely,

Rachel Kijewski
Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition
1307 Central Terrace

Link to Impacts to Listed Species and Threatened Habitat Document:
https://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0B6TlWTWa1h34Yzk5NWM3OGQtMjZjZi00ZTQ2LTlmYjQtY2FkNWEyNDBjNjg5&hl=en&pli=1

Lake Worth, FL 33460

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