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Control Number: 49603
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Item Number: 92
Life's better outside.'
Ms. Karen Hubbard Public Utility Commission P.O. Box 13326
Austin, TX 78711-3326 RE: PUC Docket 49603
Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation
Proposed Hallsville to Gum Springs 138-kilovolt Transmission Line Harrison County
Dear Ms. Hubbard:
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has received and reviewed the Environmental Assessment and Alternative Route Analysis (EA) regarding the above-referenced proposed transmission line project. TPWD offers the following comments concerning this project.
Please be aware that a written response to a TPWD recommendation or informational comment received by a state governmental agency may be required by state law. For further guidance, see the Texas Parks and-Wildlife (TPW) Code, Section 12.0011. For tracking purposes, please refer to TPWD project number 42218 in any return correspondence regarding this project.
Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (URECC) is proposing to construct a new single-circuit 138-kilovolt (kV) electric transmission line in Harrison County to connect the existing Hallsville Substation, located just east of the intersection of County Road 3428 and Fort Crawford Drive in Hallsville, Texas, to the proposed Gum Springs Substation to be located approximately one-half mile northwest of the intersection of Whitehurst Drive and Coleman Road. The transmission line will be 4.8 to 5.9 miles in length and constructed on concrete or steel monopole structures within a 100-foot wide right-of-way (ROW).
Commissioners Ralph H. Duggins Chairman Fort Worth S. Reed Morian Vice-Chairman Houston Arch "Beaver" Aplin, 111 Lake Jackson Oliver J. Bell Cleveland Anna B. Galo Laredo Jeanne W. Latimer San Antonio James H. Lee Houston Dick Scott Wimberley Kelcy L. Warren Dallas Lee M. Bass Chairman-Emeritus Fort Worth T. Dan Friedkin Chairman-Emeritus Houston Carter P. Smith Executive Director
URECC retained POWER Engineers Inc. (POWER) to prepare the EA to support URECC's application to amend a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) for this project.
TPWD provided information and recommendations regarding the preliminary study area for this project to POWER on August 7, 2017. This letter is included in Appendix A of the EA.
4200 SMITH SCHOOL ROAD AUSTIN, TEXAS 78744-3291
512.389.4800 To manage and conserve the natural and cultural resources of Texas and to provide hunting, fishing
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Recommendation: Please review the TPWD correspondence in Appendix A and
consider the recommendations provided, as they remain applicable to the project as proposed.
URECC's Recommended Route
Using 50 primary alternative segments, URECC and POWER identified 13 primary alternative routes for evaluation in the EA, with each segment incorporated in at least one route. The consensus opinion of the POWER evaluators was that alternative Route 8 was the route that best balanced land use, ecological, and cultural factors based on the following criteria:
• Is the second shortest route, at 4.9 miles;
• Is tied with Route 11 for the second fewest habitable structures (30) within 300 feet;
• Has the second fewest newly affected habitable structures within 300 feet (25); • Utilizes or parallels existing linear features (transmission/distribution lines, other existing compatible ROW, or apparent property lines or other natural or cultural features) for 92 percent of its length;
• Is tied with six other routes for having the fewest pipeline crossings (3); • Does not cross any existing transmission lines; and
• Has the fourth shortest length of ROW across areas of high archeological potential (3.6 miles).
And like each of the other alternative routes evaluated, Route 8: • Does not cross any parks/recreational areas;
• Does not cross through any cropland;
• Does not cross land irrigated by traveling systems; • Does not cross any gravel pits, mines, or quarries; • Does not cross any interstate, U.S., or state highways;
• Does not cross any Farm-to-Market (FM) or Ranch-to-Market (RM) roads; • ROW centerline is not located within 10,000 feet of any private use airstrips; • ROW centerline is not located within 5,000 feet of any heliports;
• ROW centerline is not located within 10,000 or 20,000 feet of any Federal Aviation Administration registered airports;
• Has no AM radio transmitters within 10,000 feet of ROW centerline; • Has no existing water wells within 200 feet of the route centerline; • Is not within foreground visual zone of FM/RM roads;
• Has no length within foreground visual zone of parks/recreational areas; • Crosses no known/occupied habitat of federally-listed endangered or
• Does not cross or within 1,000 feet of any National Register of Historic Places listed sites.
URECC concluded after reviewing the results of POWER' s evaluation and considering other factors, such as costs, that Route 8 best addresses the requirements of the Public Utility Regulatory Act and Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) Substantive Rules, and that each of the alternative routes are feasible from an environmental/land use and engineering perspective.
TPWD's Recommended Route
In addition to review of the EA and publicly-available GIS data, TPWD evaluated potential impacts to fish and wildlife resources and public recreational properties using the following criteria from Table 4-1 in the EA:
• Length of alternative route;
• Length of route utilizing existing transmission or distribution line ROW; • Length of route parallel to existing electric transmission or distribution line
• Length of route parallel to other existing compatible ROW (highway, roads, railway, etc.) - Excluding apparent property lines;
• Length of route parallel to pipeline ROW; • Length of route across pasture/rangeland;
• Length of route across bottomland/riparian woodlands; • Length of route across upland forest;
• Length of route across National Wetland Inventory (NWI) mapped wetlands; • Length of route across open water (lakes, ponds, etc.);
• Number of stream or river crossings;
• Length of route parallel (within 100 feet) to streams or rivers; and • Length of route across mapped 100-year floodplains.
The following ecological and land use criteria had values of zero for all routes and were not used by TPWD to compare routes: length of route across parks/recreational areas, number of additional parks/recreational areas within 1,000 feet of ROW centerline, length of route across cropland or land irrigated by travelling systems; and length of route across known occupied habitat of federally-listed endangered or threatened species.
TPWD did not evaluate the length of ROW parallel to apparent property lines because the existence of property lines does not always represent a linear disturbance or a break between contiguous tracts of habitat and cannot be used to assume existing habitat fragmentation.
After careful evaluation of the 13 routes filed with the CCN, TPWD selected Route 13 (Segments C-F-J1-AS-Z1-Z3-AEl-AE2-AH-AP) as the route having the least adverse impacts to fish and wildlife resources. The decision to recommend Route 13 was based primarily on the following factors that Route 13:
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• Is the shortest route (4.8 miles) (All routes: 4.8 to 5.9 miles);
• Utilizes the greatest amount of existing transmission or distribution line ROW (2.5 miles) (All routes: 0.3 to 2.5 miles);
• Follows parallel to existing transmission line ROW and other existing compatible ROW (road, highways, railways, etc.) combined, for approximately 57 percent of its length — Excluding apparent property boundaries (All routes: 14 to 72 percent);
• Has the second-longest length of route through pastureland/rangelands, which represents approximately 51 percent of its length, thus reducing the need to clear woodland habitats (2.4 miles) (All routes: 1.1 to 2.8 miles; 20 to 51 percent);
• Has the shortest length of route through upland bottomland/riparian woodlands (0.1 mile) (All routes: 0.1 to 0.8 mile);
• Has the third-shortest length of route through upland forest (2.1 miles) (All routes 1.9 to 3.8 miles);
• Along with all routes except Route 10, has up to 0.1 mile of length across NWI mapped wetlands (0.1 mile) (All routes: 0 to 0.7);
• Along with one other route, has the third-least number of streams crossings (9) (All routes: 7 to 19 stream crossings);
• Along with six other routes, has the second-shortest length of route parallel (within 100 feet) to streams (0.2 mile) (All routes: 0 to 0.8 mile); and
• Along with five other routes, has the third-shortest length of route across mapped floodplains (0.2 mile) (All routes: 0 to 1.0 mile).
The EA indicates that the extent of field investigation of the routes included reconnaissance surveys of the study area from public viewing points. The EA failed to provide sufficient information based on field surveys to determine which route would best minimize impacts to important, rare, and protected species. Therefore, TPWD's routing recommendation is based solely on the natural resource information provided in the CCN application and the EA, as well as publicly available information examined in a Geographic Information System (GIS).
Recommendation: Of the 13 routes evaluated in the EA, Route 13 appears to be
the route that causes the least adverse impacts to natural resources while also maintaining a shorter route length and utilizing/following existing transmission and distribution line ROW. TPWD's primary recommendation to the PUC is to select a route that minimizes the fragmentation of intact lands because such a route should have the least adverse impacts to natural resources. TPWD believes the State's long-term interests are best served when new utility lines and pipelines are sited where possible in or adjacent to existing utility corridors, roads, or rail lines instead of fragmenting intact lands. Of the proposed routes, Route 13 would appear to be the preferred route.
Segments J2 and Y have the greatest number of stream crossings and the largest amount of length parallel to streams and across riparian woodlands, NWI forested wetlands, and mapped floodplains compared to the other segments. Routes utilizing J2 and Y
include Routes 9, 10, 11, and 12. Although the EA indicates that none of the alternative routes are anticipated to have a significant impact on jurisdictional wetlands, a transmission line through forested wetlands would permanently alter the vegetation to a herbaceous state, and there are alternatives segments other than J2 that can minimize the project's impacts to forested wetlands. Placing a transmission line along a stream with numerous crossings, such as along Segment Y, can impact stream-stabilizing vegetation and may affect long-term stream function. Routes that have a lower number of stream crossings are available which can minimize impacts on streams resources.
Recommendation: TPWD recommends the PUC choose a route that avoids
utilizing Segments J2 and Y (Routes 9, 10, 11, and 12) due to the large amounts of stream, riparian, and forested wetland resources along these segments.
Migratoiy Bird Treaty Act
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) prohibits direct and affirmative purposeful actions that reduce migratory birds, their eggs, or their nests, by killing or capturing, to human control, except when specifically authorized by the Department of the Interior. This protection applies to most native bird species, including ground nesting species. Section 4.4.2 of the EA states "If ROW clearing-oeeurs-during-bird-nesting season, potential impacts could occur within the ROW area related to potential take of bird eggs and/or nestlings. Increases in noise and equipment activity levels during construction could also potentially disturb breeding or other activities of bird species nesting in areas adjacent to the ROW. URECC proposes to complete all ROW clearing and construction activities compliant with the MBTA to avoid or minimize these potential impacts."
Recommendation: TPWD recommends any PUC certificate preclude vegetation
clearing activities during the general bird nesting season, March 15 through September 15, to avoid adverse impacts to birds. If clearing vegetation during the migratory bird nesting season is unavoidable, TPWD recommends URECC survey the proposed route for active nests (nests with eggs or young). TPWD recommends a minimum 150-foot buffer of vegetation remain around any nests that are observed prior to disturbance and occupied nests and buffer vegetation not be disturbed until the eggs have hatched and the young have fledged.
Also, please note, Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) Code Section 64.002, regarding protection of nongame birds, provides that no person may catch, kill, injure, pursue, or possess a bird that is not a game bird. TPW Code Section 64.003, regarding destroying nests or eggs, provides that, no person may destroy or take the nests, eggs, or young and any wild game bird, wild bird, or wild fowl. TPW Code Chapter 64 does not allow for incidental take and therefore is more restrictive than the MBTA.
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The project area is located within the Central Flyway, a major bird migration corridor that leads to the Texas coast and Central/South America. Artificial nighttime lighting can attract and disorient night-migrating birds. Birds circling the lights' glare can cause collision with substation structures or exhaustion mortality. The EA does not identify the best management practices (BMPs) that will be implemented by URECC regarding substation lighting to minimize lighting impacts on birds.
Recommendation: TPWD recommends URECC implement conservation
measures presented in the USFWS Nationwide Standard Conservation Measures for reducing impacts to birds and their habitats, to avoid vegetation clearing during the bird nesting season, to survey for nests if clearing is done during the nesting season, and to implement lighting BMPs. TPWD recommends designing the substation to utilize the minimum amount of night-time lighting needed for safety and security. TPWD recommends utilizing dark-sky friendly lighting that is on only when needed, down-shielded, as bright as needed, and minimizes blue light emissions. Appropriate lighting technologies and BMPs may be found at the International Dark-Sky Association website. Additionally, TPWD recommends avoiding the removal of trees which contain colonial waterbird rookeries through route adjustments.
Section 4.4.3 of the EA states "The construction of a transmission line does not include activities associated with collecting, hooking, hunting, netting, shooting, or snaring by any means or device, and does not include an attempt to conduct such activities. Therefore, "take" of state-listed species as defined in Section 1.01(5) of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, is not anticipated by this Project."
Recommendation: Please note that the definition of take is provided in Section
1.101(5) of the Parks and Wildlife Code rather than 1.01(5) as stated in the EA. Also note that in addition to take as defined in Section 1.101(5), Section 68.015 of the Parks and Wildlife Code identifies other prohibited acts regarding state-listed fish or wildlife. Section 68.015 of the Parks and Wildlife Code prohibits capture, trap, take, or kill, or attempts to capture, trap, take or kill of state-listed fish or wildlife; thus, activities associated with the project that trap or kill a state-listed species may be in violation of state law. There is no provision for the capture, trap, take, or kill (incidental or otherwise) of state-listed species. TPWD recommends POWER and URECC review the TPWD Guidelines for Protection of State-Listed
Species, which can be found on the TPWD website.
Section 3.4.4 of the EA regarding the state-listed threatened species indicates that the Bachman's sparrow (Peucaea aestivalis), bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), wood stork (Mycteria americana), alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii), Rafinesque's big-eared bat (Corynorhinus rafinesquii), timber rattlesnake (Crotalus
horridus), blackside darter (Percina maculata), bluehead shiner (Pteronotropis hubbsi), creek chubsucker (Erimyzon oblongus), paddlefish (Polyodon spathula)
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Louisiana pigtoe (Pleurobema riddellii), sandbank pocketbook (Lampsilis satura), southern hickorynut (Obovaria jacksoniana), Texas heelsplitter (Potamilus
amphichaenus), and Texas pigtoe (Fusconaia askewi) may occur within the study area,
if suitable habitat exists.
The EA generally identifies potential impacts to wildlife and state-listed species, but dismisses the impacts as temporary, minimal, and less than significant. The EA does not identify construction BMPs that would be implemented to avoid or minimize potential impacts to terrestrial state-listed species other than implementing National
Bald Eagle Management Guidelines if a bald eagle roost or nest tree is encountered
during further biological surveys and allowing terrestrial state-listed mammals and reptiles to leave the ROW, if encountered.
Recommendation: TPWD recommends URECC commit to implementing the
terrestrial state-listed species BMPs recommended in TPWD's scoping letter (dated August 7, 2017) for this project including, but not limited to, a survey of the approved route to determine the potential of the ROW to support state-listed species or their habitat, utilizing a biological monitor to be present during clearing and construction activities to assist in detecting state-listed species in the ROW, educating contractors of the state-listed species that may occur in the project area, avoiding harassment or handling of timber rattlesnakes, avoiding wildlife entanglement by only using wildlife-friendly erosion control matting, preventing cntrapment ofwildlife • it cliches, reporting occurrences of state-listed species and— species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) to the Texas Natural Diversity Database, marking sensitive areas with flagging or fencing to ensure they are not destroyed by construction equipment, and establishing native vegetation and pollinator resources within the ROW.
If the presence of a biological monitor during construction is not feasible, state-listed threatened species observed during construction should be allowed to safely leave the site or be translocated by a permitted individual to a nearby area with similar habitat that would not be disturbed during construction. TPWD recommends that any translocations of reptiles be the minimum distance possible no greater than one mile, preferably within 100-200 yards from the initial encounter location. For purposes of relocation, surveys, monitoring, and research, terrestrial state-listed species may only be handled by persons authorized through the TPWD Wildlife Permits Office.
Section 4.4.1 of the EA identifies potential adverse impacts to aquatic resources associated with construction in or near streams including changes in water quality and available habitat caused by erosion, siltation, and sedimentation and physical aquatic habitat loss or alteration where riparian vegetation is removed and at temporary crossings required for access roads. Section 4.3.1 indicates that hand-cutting within the ordinary high water marks may be implemented where reasonable and limited to the removal of woody vegetation exceeding ten feet in height. As protection measures to avoid or minimize adverse impacts to aquatic species, Section 4.4.3 of the EA indicates that URECC would span surface waters and wetlands and would implement a storm water pollution prevention plan to the extent practicable.
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Recommendation: To avoid or minimize potential adverse impacts to state-listed
aquatic species, TPWD recommends implementing additional stream protection measures which include diverting construction traffic around water resources via existing roads, and constructing stream crossings that do not obstruct flow, do not prohibit upstream/downstream migration of aquatic wildlife, and do not trample freshwater mussels, if present, during placement of permanent or temporary fills/culverts.
Recommendation: If the project will require work within streams, the project may
need to be coordinated with the TPWD Kills and Spills Team (KAST) for appropriate authorization and to ensure protection of all native aquatic wildlife, not just state-listed species. TPWD recommends avoiding placement of temporary fills, culverts or structures into waters serving as suitable habitat for freshwater mussels. If construction occurs during times when water is present in streams and dewatering, fill or trampling activities are involved, then TPWD recommends relocating potentially impacted native aquatic resources in conjunction with a
Permit to Introduce Fish, Shellfish or Aquatic Plants into Public Waters and an
ARRP. The ARRP should be completed and approved by the department 30 days
prior to activity within project waters and/or resource relocation and submitted
with an application for a no-cost Permit to Introduce Fish, Shellfish, or Aquatic
Plants into Public Waters. ARRPs can be submitted to Adam Whisenant TPWD
KAST available—at—Adam,W .gov and 903-566= 8387.
Species of Greatest Conservation Need
In addition to state- and federally-protected species, SCGN and natural plant communities are tracked in the TXNDD, and TPWD actively promotes their conservation. TPWD considers it important to evaluate and, if necessary, minimize impacts to rare species and their habitat to reduce the likelihood of endangerment and preclude the need to list as threatened or endangered in the future.
Section 3.4.4 of the EA identifies the SGCN that have potential to occur within the project area, however, the TPWD online application identifying rare, threatened, and endangered species by county (RTEST) has undergone a significant update as of April 2019 and now includes 23 additional SGCN for Harrison County, as well as some species removals from the county list.
Recommendation: In addition to threatened and endangered species, TPWD
recommends that pre-construction surveys of the approved route include surveys to determine whether SGCN or suitable habitat for SGCN would be impacted as a result of the proposed project and to avoid or minimize impacts to the extent feasible. The presence of a biological monitor is recommended during construction to identify rare plants, vegetation communities, and wildlife, and to assist contractors with avoiding impacts to any of these natural resources.
Comment: TPWD encourages the assessment of impacts to all species and
communities identified in the Texas Conservation Action Plan (TCAP), TXNDD, and Harrison County RTEST list. Broad issues such as habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, and open-space land conversion, which constitutes a majority of impacts caused by transmission line construction, are implicated in the decline of many Texas SGCN. Because Texas contains largely privately-owned lands, these lands are essential to the conservation of sensitive natural resources like SGCN as identified in the TCAP. Thoughtful consideration of the impacts and potential conservation measures that can be implemented to minimize those impacts are recommended during the conversion of private land for public utility development. TPWD appreciates the opportunity to review and comment on this EA. Please contact Ms. Karen Hardin at (903) 322-5001 or Karen.Hardingtpwd.texas.gov if you have any questions. Thank you for your favorable consideration.
Wildlife Division Deputy Director K H•jn 47218(38146)
cc: Ms. Theresa Underwood, URECC System Engineer, email@example.com Ms. Karen Hardin