Notice of Availability of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement To Reconsider a Highway Right-of-Way Application and Associated Amendment of an Incidental Take Permit, Washington County, Utah

Published date10 May 2024
Record Number2024-10078
Citation89 FR 40504
CourtFish And Wildlife Service,Land Management Bureau
SectionNotices
Federal Register, Volume 89 Issue 92 (Friday, May 10, 2024)
[Federal Register Volume 89, Number 92 (Friday, May 10, 2024)]
                [Notices]
                [Pages 40504-40507]
                From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
                [FR Doc No: 2024-10078]
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                DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
                Bureau of Land Management
                Fish and Wildlife Service
                [BLM_FRN_MO4500175331]
                Notice of Availability of the Draft Supplemental Environmental
                Impact Statement To Reconsider a Highway Right-of-Way Application and
                Associated Amendment of an Incidental Take Permit, Washington County,
                Utah
                AGENCY: Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
                ACTION: Notice of availability.
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                SUMMARY: In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of
                1969, as amended (NEPA), the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of
                1976, as amended (FLPMA), and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as
                amended (ESA), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Fish and
                Wildlife Service (FWS), as co-lead agencies, announce the availability
                of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the
                Northern Corridor Project (a proposed highway) as well as a potential
                amendment to the Incidental Take Permit (ITP) issued to Washington
                County, Utah, under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA.
                DATES: To afford the BLM and FWS the opportunity to consider comments
                in the Final SEIS, please ensure the agencies receive your comments
                within 45 days following the date the Environmental Protection Agency
                (EPA) publishes its Notice of Availability (NOA) of the Draft SEIS in
                the Federal Register. The EPA usually publishes its NOAs on Fridays.
                ADDRESSES: The Draft SEIS is available for review on the BLM ePlanning
                project website at https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2026562/510. Click the Documents link on the left
                [[Page 40505]]
                side of the screen to find the electronic versions of these materials.
                Written comments related to the highway right-of-way (ROW) and
                associated potential amendment of an ITP can be submitted by either of
                the following methods:
                 Website: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2026562/510.
                 Mail: Bureau of Land Management, Attn: Northern Corridor
                SEIS, 345 East Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790.
                FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dawna Ferris-Rowley, NCA Manager, Red
                Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash NCAs, telephone (435) 688-3200; address 345
                East Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790; email
                [email protected]. Contact Ms. Ferris-Rowley to have your
                name added to our mailing list. Individuals in the United States who
                are deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability may
                dial 711 (TTY, TDD, or TeleBraille) to access telecommunications relay
                services for contacting Ms. Ferris-Rowley. Individuals outside the
                United States should use the relay services offered within their
                country to make international calls to the point-of-contact in the
                United States. Replies are provided during normal business hours. If
                you would like to request to view a hard copy, please call the St.
                George Field Office for more information at (435) 688-3200, Monday
                through Friday, except holidays.
                SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The BLM and FWS are issuing this NOA
                pursuant to NEPA, 42 United States Code (U.S.C.) 4321 et seq.; the
                Council on Environmental Quality regulations for implementing NEPA, 40
                Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) parts 1500-1508; and the Department
                of the Interior's NEPA regulations, 43 CFR part 46.
                 The Draft SEIS has been prepared to supplement the analysis
                contained in the 2020 Final EIS (FEIS) by BLM and FWS. (The entire FEIS
                can be found at: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/1502103/570.)
                 On September 4, 2018, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT)
                applied for a ROW grant for the Northern Corridor Project north of the
                City of St. George, Utah, on BLM-managed and non-Federal lands within
                the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA) and Red Cliffs Desert
                Reserve. To consider the application, the BLM needed to also consider
                amending the St. George Field Office and Red Cliffs NCA Resource
                Management Plans (RMPs). The Red Cliffs NCA was established through the
                passage of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (16 U.S.C.
                460www). Prior to the NCA's designation, the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
                was established for the protection of the Mojave desert tortoise as
                part of the 1995 Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). In
                2015, pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA, Washington County
                applied to renew and amend the HCP and associated ITP. The restated and
                amended HCP described the Northern Corridor highway as a potential
                changed circumstance, which would be partially offset with the addition
                of a new sixth zone to the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve (Reserve Zone 6)
                as the primary conservation strategy.
                 In 2019-2020, in accordance with NEPA, the BLM and FWS prepared an
                EIS to analyze the environmental impacts associated with the proposed
                action and reasonable alternatives. The BLM also consulted with the FWS
                to meet the requirements in section 7(a)(2) of the ESA. The FWS issued
                a biological opinion to the BLM that determined the ROW and the
                amendments to the RMPs were not likely to jeopardize the continued
                existence of the Mojave desert tortoise or destroy or adversely modify
                designated critical habitat for the Mojave desert tortoise. In
                addition, the FWS issued an intra-agency biological opinion which
                determined that the ITP is not likely to jeopardize the continued
                existence of the Mojave desert tortoise, Holmgren milkvetch, Shivwits
                milkvetch, dwarf bear-poppy, Siler pincushion cactus, Gierisch mallow,
                and Fickeisen plains cactus or result in the adverse modification of
                critical habitat for any of the above listed species.
                 On January 13, 2021, the Secretary of the Interior signed a Record
                of Decision that approved the Northern Corridor ROW application and
                approved the amendments to the RMPs. The decision approving the ROW was
                effective immediately. The BLM then signed and issued the ROW grant to
                UDOT on the same day. Also on January 13, 2021, the FWS Regional
                Director for Interior Regions 5 and 7 signed a Record of Decision
                approving the issuance of an ITP to Washington County, and the FWS
                issued the ITP to Washington County. Because BLM approved the UDOT ROW
                application, the changed circumstance was triggered, and Zone 6 was
                formally added to the Reserve.
                 On June 3, 2021, seven conservation organizations (collectively,
                Plaintiffs) filed a complaint in the United States District Court for
                the District of Columbia, Case No. 1:21-cv-01506. Among other claims,
                Plaintiffs alleged the BLM's ROW decision violated both NEPA and the
                National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The Plaintiffs stated, in
                part, that the FEIS did not fully address the changed circumstances of
                wildfire in the region and the impacts it may have on the Mojave desert
                tortoise, desert tortoise habitat, and the spread of invasive annual
                grasses. The Plaintiffs also alleged that the BLM failed to comply with
                the consultation requirements under section 106 of the NHPA. On July
                27, 2021, Plaintiffs amended their complaint to include the FWS and
                additional claims related to NEPA and the ESA.
                 During the litigation, the United States and Plaintiffs reached a
                settlement agreement that was signed on August 30, 2023. Prior to
                executing that agreement, the United States moved for the remand and
                partial vacatur of BLM's and FWS's 2021 decisions. In the motion, the
                United States acknowledged that the BLM did not comply with the NHPA
                and that the agencies had substantial and legitimate concerns that the
                FEIS may lack sufficient analysis of certain resource effects,
                including the effects of the construction and use of the Northern
                Corridor Project in the context of the following: (1) the trend in the
                increasing frequency and extent of wildfires in the Mojave Desert; (2)
                the rise of non-native/exotic and invasive vegetation in post-burn
                areas; and (3) the impacts increased fire and new non-native/exotic and
                invasive vegetation have on desert tortoise. On September 1, 2023, the
                Plaintiffs filed a response in support of the United States' motion. On
                November 16, 2023, the United States District Court for the District of
                Columbia issued an Order that granted the remand of all decisions
                associated with the January 2021 Records of Decision issued by the BLM
                and FWS.
                Purpose and Need for the Proposed Action
                 The BLM's purpose and need for this action is to reconsider the
                2018 UDOT ROW application to determine whether the BLM will affirm,
                affirm with modifications, or terminate the ROW grant. The FWS's
                purpose and need for this action is to consider whether to amend
                Washington County's ITP so that it reflects the BLM's reconsideration
                of UDOT's ROW.
                Proposed Action and Alternatives
                 The Draft SEIS considers six alternatives that include both a
                specific ROW alignment and the corresponding action required of the FWS
                regarding the Washington County ITP. The six ROW alternatives analyzed
                in detail in the Draft SEIS are similar to those included in the FEIS
                published in November 2020. No new highway
                [[Page 40506]]
                alignments that meet UDOT's stated purpose and need for the Northern
                Corridor highway were identified by the public during the scoping
                period.
                 UDOT ROW Alignment alternative (No Action, or No Change):
                the BLM would affirm the ROW grant issued to UDOT in 2021 following an
                alignment that is approximately 4.5 miles long, 1.9 miles of which
                would be across BLM-managed lands. This alternative would have a
                similar analysis of effects as the ``UDOT Application Alignment for the
                Northern Corridor'' alternative described in the 2020 Final EIS. In
                this case, the FWS would affirm Washington County's ITP. The changed
                circumstance related to the construction of the Northern Corridor
                across the Reserve described in the HCP would remain triggered, and
                Zone 6 would remain in the Reserve.
                 T-Bone Mesa Alignment alternative: the BLM would modify
                UDOT's ROW grant across public lands in the NCA. This alignment would
                connect Green Springs Drive on the east to Red Hills Parkway on the
                west just north of the Pioneer Hills trailhead parking area. Under this
                alternative, the Northern Corridor would skirt the southern edge of T-
                Bone Mesa. The Northern Corridor would be approximately 4.2 miles long,
                2.2 miles of which would be across BLM-administered lands. In this
                case, the FWS would affirm Washington County's ITP. The changed
                circumstance related to the construction of the Northern Corridor
                across the Reserve described in the HCP would remain triggered, and
                Zone 6 would remain in the Reserve.
                 Southern Alignment alternative: the BLM would modify
                UDOT's ROW grant across public lands in the NCA. This alignment would
                skirt the southern border of the NCA, connecting Green Springs Drive on
                the east to Red Hills Parkway on the west just south of, and slightly
                encroaching onto, the Pioneer Hills trailhead parking area. The
                Northern Corridor would be approximately 5.5 miles long, approximately
                1.5 miles of which would be across BLM-administered lands. In this
                case, the FWS would affirm Washington County's ITP. The changed
                circumstance related to the construction of the Northern Corridor
                across the Reserve described in the HCP would remain triggered, and
                Zone 6 would remain in the Reserve.
                 Red Hills Parkway Expressway alternative: This alternative
                would convert Red Hills Parkway into a grade-separated expressway
                between I-15 and Bluff Street. Under this alternative, UDOT would no
                longer hold the ROW grant for the Northern Corridor across the NCA. The
                BLM may need to grant necessary ROW amendments to the City of St.
                George's existing FLPMA Title V ROW for the Red Hills Parkway if the
                planned improvements exceed the boundaries of the existing ROW. Under
                this alternative, the FWS would amend Washington County's ITP because
                it could no longer assume the Northern Corridor changed circumstance is
                occurring.
                 St. George Boulevard/100 South One-Way Couplet
                alternative: Under this alternative, UDOT would no longer hold the ROW
                grant for the Northern Corridor across the NCA. This alternative would
                include modifications to St. George Boulevard and 100 South to convert
                the two roadways into a one-way couplet system between I-15 and Bluff
                Street, wherein St. George Boulevard would only accommodate westbound
                traffic and 100 South would only accommodate eastbound traffic. While
                this alternative meets the purpose and need of the project, it would
                have to be implemented by the City of St. George because it does not
                cross any BLM-administered lands. Under this alternative, the FWS would
                amend Washington County's ITP because it could no longer assume the
                Northern Corridor changed circumstance is occurring.
                 Terminate UDOT's ROW alternative: Under this alternative,
                UDOT would no longer hold the ROW grant for the Northern Corridor
                across the NCA. This alternative would have a similar analysis of
                effects as, and represents an equivalency with, the ``no action''
                alternative in the 2020 Final EIS. Under this alternative, the FWS
                would amend Washington County's ITP because it could no longer assume
                the Northern Corridor changed circumstance is occurring.
                 Under the Red Hills Parkway Expressway, St. George Boulevard/100
                South One-Way Couplet, and Terminate UDOT's ROW alternatives, the
                6,812-acre mitigation area in the southwest area of St. George, known
                as Reserve Zone 6, would be removed from the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.
                However, the 3,471 acres managed by the BLM within Zone 6 would
                continue to be managed with the protections put in place under the 2021
                St. George Field Office RMP amendments. The remaining 3,341 acres of
                land, which are either privately owned or managed by the Utah Trust
                Lands Administration, would no longer be afforded special protections
                by Washington County and would be subject to development under the
                amended ITP.
                 The Draft SEIS does not reconsider any amendments to the BLM's RMPs
                or to Washington County's amended HCP.
                Anticipated Permits and Authorizations
                 The BLM will decide whether to affirm, affirm with modifications,
                or terminate UDOT's ROW grant. The FWS will determine whether to amend
                Washington County's ITP for the Mojave desert tortoise consistent with
                the BLM's reconsideration of UDOT's ROW grant.
                Schedule for the Decision-Making Process
                 The Final SEIS is anticipated to be released in fall 2024 with
                Records of Decision in November 2024.
                Public Involvement Process
                 A public scoping period for the Draft SEIS was offered between
                November 16, 2023, and December 28, 2023, having been extended at the
                request of Washington County and the State of Utah. The scoping period
                included a public open house held in St. George, Utah on December 6,
                2023, with over 200 attendees. A total of 8,993 comment submissions
                were received, of which 8,145 were form letters, 793 were unique
                comments, and 55 did not include a comment or were comments not
                relevant to scoping for the Draft SEIS. The BLM and FWS considered all
                comments received during the scoping period in preparation of the Draft
                SEIS. A scoping report is available for public review on the BLM
                ePlanning project website (see ADDRESSES).
                 This NOA initiates the Draft SEIS public review process. The BLM
                and FWS will hold one in-person public meeting during the public
                comment period. The BLM and FWS will announce the date and time for
                this meeting at least 15 days prior to the event. Announcements will be
                made through media releases and posting on the BLM ePlanning project
                website (see ADDRESSES).
                 Public review of the Draft SEIS allows the public an opportunity to
                provide substantive comments on the alternatives and analysis in the
                Draft SEIS. Public comments often identify factual errors, data gaps,
                relevant methods, or scientific studies. The BLM and FWS will respond
                to substantive comments and make appropriate revisions in development
                of the Final SEIS or explain why a comment did not warrant a change.
                Non-substantive comments may not receive a response from the BLM and
                FWS.
                [[Page 40507]]
                Lead and Cooperating Agencies
                 The BLM and FWS are co-lead agencies. Cooperating agencies consist
                of the State of Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, State of
                Utah Department of Environmental Quality, State of Utah Trust Lands
                Administration, Washington City, Dixie Metropolitan Planning
                Organization, City of St. George, City of Ivins, Santa Clara City, City
                of Hurricane, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and the Shivwits Band of
                the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.
                Additional Information
                 There may be changes to the Draft SEIS based on information
                received during the public comment period and the gathering of
                additional data and analyses. The BLM and FWS invite and encourage
                detailed comments on all alternatives, alignments, actions, and
                analyses provided in the Draft SEIS.
                 The BLM and FWS will continue to consult with Indian Tribal Nations
                on a government-to-government basis in accordance with Executive Order
                13175, BLM Manual Section 1780, and other Departmental policies. Tribal
                concerns, including impacts on Indian trust assets and potential
                impacts to cultural resources, will be given due consideration.
                 Before including your address, phone number, email address, or
                other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be
                aware that your entire comment--including your personal identifying
                information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can
                include in your comment a request to withhold your personal identifying
                information from public review, the agencies cannot guarantee that they
                will be able to do so.
                (Authority: 40 CFR 1506.6, 40 CFR 1506.10)
                Gregory Sheehan,
                State Director.
                Anna Munoz,
                Deputy Regional Director.
                [FR Doc. 2024-10078 Filed 5-9-24; 8:45 am]
                BILLING CODE 4331-25-P
                

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