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    Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Issues Public Comment to Interior Dept.


    September 9, 2022 - Targeted News Service

     

      TARGETED NEWS SERVICE (founded 2004) features non-partisan 'edited journalism' news briefs and information for news organizations, public policy groups and individuals; as well as 'gathered' public policy information, including news releases, reports, speeches. For more information contact MYRON STRUCK, editor, editor@targetednews.com, Springfield, Virginia; 703/304-1897; https://targetednews.com

      WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 -- The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has issued a public comment to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The comment was written on Aug. 16, 2022, and posted on Sept. 6, 2022.

      The comment, on Docket No. BOEM-2022-0036, was sent to the Office of Emerging Programs at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

      * * *

      On July 19, 2022, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced that the Department of the Interior is seeking public comments under Docket No. BOEM-20220036 for two draft Wind Energy Area (WEAs) in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) as described in a memorandum for concurrence dated July 20, 2022 ("the memorandum"). The first draft WEA is located approximately 24 nautical miles (nm) off the coast of Galveston, TX and covers a total of 546,645 acres (Option I). The second draft WEA is located approximately 56 nm off the coast of Lake Charles, LA and covers a total of 188,023 acres (Option M). The two draft WEAs represent a small subset of the original 30-million-acre Gulf of Mexico Call Area that the Department of the Interior announced for public comment in October 2021.

      Under section 12.0011 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code (PWC), the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is charged with "providing recommendations that will protect fish and wildlife resources to local, state, and federal agencies that approve, permit, license, or construct development projects" and "providing information on fish and wildlife resources to any local, state, and federal agencies or private organizations that make decisions affecting those resources." In accordance with these roles, TPWD offers the following comments for the preliminary WEAs.

      In a letter dated February 9, 2022 (enclosed), TPWD previously provided recommendations that artificial reef sites be avoided by a buffer of 1 nm, and TPWD provided BOEM with spatial datasets for sensitive natural and cultural resources, including artificial reefs, occurring onshore and offshore of the Texas Gulf coast. The artificial reef data provided were not accurately represented in the materials presented in the memorandum. Table 2 of the memorandum indicates that Texas permitted artificial reefs would be avoided with a 1,000-foot setback. Louisiana permitted artificial reefs would also be avoided with a 500-foot setback. The memorandum also states that only 3 fish havens (or artificial reef sites) occur within the recommended Galveston Preliminary WEA (Option I); however, according to TPWD's Artificial Reefs Interactive Mapping Application dataset, WEA Option I includes four artificial reef sites. These sites include two Buccaneer sites (GA-288 and GA-296), the Freeport Liberty Ship site (GA-A-22), and site HI-A-480. Although the Freeport Liberty Ship site is technically excluded from the WEA lease blocks, the southeastern comer of the reef site appears to be less than 150 feet away from.the WEA. These reef sites are well established and provide both fishery habitat and recreational opportunities. TPWD is concerned that benthic surveys, anchoring, laying transmission lines, and other activities may disturb sensitive benthic communities or may impact reefed structures. TPWD stands by our February 9, 2022, comments that artificial reefs should be avoided with a 1.0 nm buffer.

      Recommendation: Artificial reefs should be provided a 1.0 nm protective buffer to avoid and minimize impacts to sensitive benthic communities that would result from pre-construction surveys as well as construction and decommissioning of the project. TPWD requests opportunities to provide site-specific information and recommendations to inform activities within the 1-nm boundary of any TPWD-permitted leases for artificial reefs.

      TPWD appreciates the exclusion of lease blocks within WEA Option I to address concerns raised by the commercial shrimping industry. It is our understanding that the removal of additional lease blocks for this purpose is underway.

      The Texas Gulf coast has many sensitive natural and cultural resources. TPWD is concerned that these resources could be disturbed by various proposed activities. TPWD looks forward to continuing our coordination with BOEM, prospective lease holders, and their agents to inform decision makers while addressing agency concerns.

      TPWD appreciates BOEM's efforts to engage with stakeholders, especially the recreational and commercial fishing industry, and federal agency partners during this scoping process and looks forward to providing comments and recommendations during the development of the draft WEAs for the proposed activity. Regarding future commenting opportunities, TPWD respectfully requests that at least 45 days are provided for review and response to this complex project.

      If you have any questions or to schedule a meeting with TPWD, please contact the Ecosystem Resources Program Director Dr. Emma Clarkson by email at emma.clarkson@tpwd.texas.gov or by phone at (361) 694-0226.

      Sincerely,

      Clayton Wolf

      Chief Operating Officer

      CW:EC:WC:cc

      Enclosure

      cc: Mr. Robin Riechers

      Mr. John Silovsky

      Ms. Emma Clarkson

      Mr. Willy Cupit

      * * *

      This letter is in response to the January 11, 2022, announcement (Docket No. BOEM-2021-0092) that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is preparing a draft environmental assessment (EA) to consider potential offshore wind leasing ("Lease Areas") in a nearly 30-million-acre area of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) of the Gulf of Mexico which includes an area directly adjacent to the entire Texas coastline (3,359 statute miles) ("Call Area"). BOEM is also seeking public input concerning the development of offshore wind in these same areas of the Gulf of Mexico.

      According to information provided by BOEM, the draft EA will consider potential environmental consequences of site characterization activities (i.e., biological, archeological and geological, as well as geophysical surveys and core samples) and site assessment activities (i.e., installation of meteorological buoys and/or towers) associated with the possibility of issuing wind energy leases in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico. Approval of a plan authorizing the construction of an OCS renewable energy project in the Gulf of Mexico would be subject to a detailed environmental analysis.

      Under section 12.0011 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code (PWC), the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is charged with "providing recommendations that will protect fish and wildlife resources to local, state, and federal agencies that approve, permit, license, or construct development projects" and "providing information on fish and wildlife resources to any local, state, and federal agencies or private organizations that make decisions affecting those resources."

      At this time, TPWD would like to offer the following comments and recommendations for your consideration:

      * Benthic survey results should be used to identify the presence and extent of natural hard bottom reefs and artificial reefs, and these should be excluded from Lease Areas with a minimal buffer of one nautical mile from the edges of reef systems. NOAA SEAMAP data should be utilized in identifying hard bottom habitat. Artificial reefs can be identified using the TPWD online GIS Artificial Reef Viewer.

      * The draft EA should identify and evaluate all permanent and temporary effects to fish and wildlife and their habitats in federal and state waters, including the effects of activities within staging and loading areas and work corridors as well as anchor spread, vessel traffic, etc.

      * BOEM should consider the migration routes of marine and estuarine organisms ( such as fishes, shrimps, crabs, marine mammals, and sea turtles) as well as the effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) on those migration routes and animal behaviors in the spatial planning process to inform the siting of Lease Areas within the Call Area Data gaps should be evaluated to determine if additional research or surveys are needed.

      * BOEM should consider bird and bat migration routes in the spatial planning process to inform siting of Lease Areas within the Call Area. The draft EA should include a thorough assessment of potential impacts to birds and bats, including the additive and cumulative effects of siting wind energy projects within migration corridors. There is a paucity of data on birds and bats in the Gulf of Mexico and more research and surveys may be needed to inform the siting of Lease Areas within the Call Area.

      * Siting of wind energy Lease Areas, and the transmission lines, substations, and other infrastructure that would be inherently associated with the development of such Lease Areas, adjacent to sensitive coastal and nearshore areas may have adverse effects on the natural and cultural resources of Texas. BOEM should identify potential areas of nearshore activities that would be associated with offshore Lease Areas and assess potential impacts of Lease Areas to state natural and cultural resources held in the public's trust.

      The Texas Gulf Coast has many sensitive habitats of ecological importance such as seagrass, fresh and saltwater marshes, mangroves, oysters, sand and mud flats, native prairies, maritime forests, bottomland hardwoods, coastal dunes, lomas, and more. TPWD is concerned that these habitats could be disturbed by . various activities resulting from the Lease Areas. TPWD recognizes that the potential to avoid and minimize adverse effects is greatest during the siting stage of the planning phase of development. Information about nearshore sensitive areas may also be useful to those seeking to obtain a lease. As stated in our letter dated December 16, 2021 and recently discussed with BOEM representatives, TPWD requests scoping meetings with BOEM to discuss key concerns and issues and to cooperatively collaborate with BOEM prior to and during the NEPA coordination and consultation process. At that time, TPWD may provide spatial data for nearshore and onshore sensitive resources of concern.

      TPWD appreciates the opportunity to provide comments and recommendations during the development of the draft EA and appreciates BOEM's efforts to engage with stakeholders, especially the recreational and commercial fishing industry as well as federal and state agency partners, during this scoping process. Regarding future commenting opportunities, TPWD respectfully requests that at least 45 days are provided for review and response to this complex project.

      If you have any questions or to schedule a meeting with TPWD, please contact the Ecosystem Resources Program Director Dr. Emma Clarkson by email at emma.clarkson@tpwd.texas.gov or by phone at (361) 694-0226 or the Wildlife Habitat Assessment Program Leader Laura Zebehazy by email at laura.zebehazy@tpwd.texas.gov or by phone at (512) 389-4638 or.

      Sincerely,

      Clayton,

      Chief Operating Officer

      CW:EC:WC

      cc: Mr. John Silovsky

      Mr. Robin Riechers

      Mr. Rodney Franklin

      Ms. Laura Zebehazy

      Dr. Emma Clarkson

      * * *

      Original text here: https://downloads.regulations.gov/BOEM-2022-0036-0057/attachment_1.pdf

      TARGETED NEWS SERVICE (founded 2004) features non-partisan 'edited journalism' news briefs and information for news organizations, public policy groups and individuals; as well as 'gathered' public policy information, including news releases, reports, speeches. For more information contact MYRON STRUCK, editor, editor@targetednews.com, Springfield, Virginia; 703/304-1897; https://targetednews.com

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