TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: The Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has received an application for a Department of the Army permit pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. §1344) and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (33 U.S.C. §403) as described below:
APPLICANT: Eglin Air Force Base (AFB)
Attn: Dana J. McIntyre
501 Deleon Street, Suite 100
Eglin AFB, FL 32542
WATERWAY AND LOCATION: The project would affect waters of the United States associated with the Gulf of Mexico. The project is a Submarine Fiber Optic Cable (SFOC) that begins at 2151 Cape San Blas Road (Test Site D-3B), Eglin AFB in Sections 21 and 22, Township 9 South, Range 11 West, Port St. Joe, Gulf County, Florida. The cable would extend waterward approximately 53 geographical miles (46.06 Nautical Miles) to the outer continental shelf.
Directions to the site are as follows: From Port Saint Joe, travel south 2 miles on US Highway (Hwy) 98/30. Take a slight left onto State Road 30A and go 6.5 miles. Turn right onto Cape San Blas Road and go approximately 2 miles. Enter onto Air Force property at Cape San Blas and go approximately 0.5 mile and turn left onto the access road for Test Site D-3B.
APPROXIMATE CENTRAL COORDINATES: Latitude 29.67761°
Basic: Transmission cable.
Overall: The overall project purpose is to construct/install a Submerged Fiber Optic Cable to upgrade an existing communications system for the Eglin Gulf Test and Training Range in the Gulf of Mexico, beginning at Cape San Blas in Gulf County, Florida.
EXISTING CONDITIONS: The wetland system consists of a saltwater system with exception of freshwater wetlands surrounding the Test Site D-3B. The freshwater wetlands consist of coastal scrub. The onshore saltwater wetlands consist of prairies, bogs, forested emergent and scrub-shrub. Dry sandy and unconsolidated shoreline separate the onshore wetlands and the estuarine surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
PROPOSED WORK: The applicant seeks authorization to install a SFOC extending from a beach manhole (Test Site D-3B) southward 53 geographical miles (46.06 Nautical Miles) into the Gulf of Mexico and terminating in a seafloor vault.
The cable installation procedure can be broken into three main phases: (1) Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD), (2) Near-shore HDD punch-out and cable installation, and (3) Offshore Cable Installation (See Figure 1).
HDD: The onshore HDD entry location would be located within uplands in the Test Site D-3B boundary. The SFOC would connect to the land cable at the Beach Manhole (BMH). The HDD would be a 2,900 foot long borehole 6-inches in diameter drilled under wetland and beach areas. HDD punch out would occur in nearshore shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Near-shore HDD punch-out and cable installation: In nearshore shallow waters less than 12 meters (40 feet) depth, cable laying and burial may use diver hand jetting, small vessel plow or tracked Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to cut a trench for the cable 3 to 5 feet deep. The cable would be laid, and the trench backfilled with side-cast material.
Offshore Cable Installation: The primary cable lay would use a large vessel, approximately a 300 to 500 foot in length, to bury the cable approximately 1.5 meters (5 feet) towing a plow, where possible. In some areas, target burial depth may not be achievable due to seabed conditions and burial may be less than 1.5 meters to 0.5 meter (2 feet). Additionally, some areas may require a post-lay burial attempt where seabed conditions preclude plowing but favor ROV operations. Over a small portion of the cable run, seabed conditions would preclude burial entirely, and burial would not be attempted, and the cable may be laid directly on the surface. The SFOC would terminate at a seafloor vault, which would be tethered to a floating Marine Instrumentation Platform (MIP).
Avoidance and Minimization Information: The applicant has provided the following information in support of efforts to avoid and/or minimize impacts to the aquatic environment:
The SFOC route along the 53 geographical miles (46.06 Nautical Miles) would avoid seagrasses and coral.
The SFOC route avoids known shipwrecks, natural and artificial reefs, and areas with relatively high potential for deepwater stony and soft coral occurrences.
Adhere to all applicable requirements and conditions for endangered species including gulf sturgeon, manatee, smalltooth sawfish and sea turtles.
COMPENSATORY MITIGATION – The applicant has provided the following explanation why compensatory mitigation should not be required:
No mitigation is required because there is no loss of waters associated with these activities.
CULTURAL RESOURCES: The Corps is not aware of recorded historic resources within the permit area. By letter dated January 13, 2022 (DHR Project File No.: 2021-5891), the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) concurred with the applicant’s determination of no effect on historic properties listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), or otherwise of historical, architectural, or archaeological value. This determination was based on the applicant’s provided Submerged Cultural Resource Survey for the Cape San Blas Gulf Range Marine Route,
Gulf County, Florida.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus), Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtle, Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi), Smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinate), Giant Manta Ray (Manta birostris), Wood Stork (Mycteria americana), Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus), Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa), Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon corais couperi), and St. Andrew Beach Mouse (Peromyscus polionotus peninsularis).
The Corps has determined the proposed project may affect but is not likely to adversely affect the Gulf sturgeon, Smalltooth sawfish, Swimming sea turtles (Green, Hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead), manta ray, or its designated critical habitat. The Corps will request National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) concurrence with this determination pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. By letter dated October 6, 2021, the NMFS Protected Resources Division (PRD), concurred with the applicant’s conclusions that the proposed action is not likely to adversely affect the NMFS Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed species and/or designated critical habitat (SERO-2021-02213). This concurrence was based on the SFOC being surfaced laid from the HDD exit point to the seafloor vault.
The Corps has determined the proposed project may affect but is not likely to adversely affect the West Indian Manatee and the Eastern Indigo snake following the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) programmatic keys for these species.
The Corps has determined the proposed project would have no effect on the Wood Stork, Piping Plover, Red Knot, St. Andrew Beach Mouse, nesting sea turtles, and any other any listed threatened or endangered species or designated critical habitat for the Piping Plover. This determination is based on the onshore HDD entry location would be located within uplands in the Test Site D-3B boundary and punch out would occur in nearshore shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The SFOC would be drilled under wetland and beach areas.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT (EFH): By e-mail dated April 11, 2022, the NMFS Habitat Conservation Division (HCD), based on review of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) EFH Assessment (Burial Alternative) dated March 2022, anticipated any adverse effects that might occur on marine and anadromous fishery resources would be minimal and, therefore, did not have any EFH conservation recommendations to provide.
Navigation: Based on the Florida State Plane coordinates provided by the applicant, the waterward edge of the proposed structure is 9.56 miles away from the near bottom edge of the Port St. Joe Federal channel.
SECTION 408: The applicant will not require permission under Section 14 of the Rivers and Harbors Act (33 USC 408) because the activity, in whole or in part, would not alter, occupy, or use a Corps Civil Works project.
NOTE: This public notice is being issued based on information furnished by the applicant. This information has not been verified or evaluated to ensure compliance with laws and regulation governing the regulatory program. The jurisdictional line has not been verified by Corps personnel.
COMMENTS regarding the potential authorization of the work proposed should be submitted in writing to the attention of the District Engineer through the Panama City Permits Section, 415 Richard Jackson Blvd, Suite 411, Panama City Beach, FL 32407 within 21 days from the date of this notice.
The decision whether to issue or deny this permit application will be based on the information received from this public notice and the evaluation of the probable impact to the associated wetlands. This is based on an analysis of the applicant's avoidance and minimization efforts for the project, as well as the compensatory mitigation proposed.
QUESTIONS concerning this application should be directed to the project manager, Randy Turner, in writing at Panama City Permits Section, 415 Richard Jackson Blvd, Suite 411 Panama City, FL 32407; by electronic mail at Randy.L.Turner@usace.army.mil; or, by telephone at (850) 763-0717 extension 3.
IMPACT ON NATURAL RESOURCES: Coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Marine Fisheries Services, and other Federal, State, and local agencies, environmental groups, and concerned citizens generally yields pertinent environmental information that is instrumental in determining the impact the proposed action will have on the natural resources of the area.
EVALUATION: The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impact including cumulative impacts of the proposed activity on the public interest. That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. The benefits, which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the proposal, must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. All factors which may be relevant to the proposal will be considered including cumulative impacts thereof; among these are conservation, economics, esthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historical properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shoreline erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food, and fiber production, mineral needs, considerations of property ownership, and in general, the needs and welfare of the people. Evaluation of the impact of the activity on the public interest will also include application of the guidelines promulgated by the Administrator, EPA, under authority of Section 404(b) of the Clean Water Act or the criteria established under authority of Section 102(a) of the Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is soliciting comments from the public; Federal, State, and local agencies and officials; Indian Tribes; and other Interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of this proposed activity. Any comments received will be considered by the Corps to determine whether to issue, modify, condition, or deny a permit for this proposal. To make this determination, comments are used to assess impacts to endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and the other public interest factors listed above. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity.
WATER QUALITY CERTIFICATION: Water Quality Certification may be required from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT CONSISTENCY: In Florida, the State approval constitutes compliance with the approved Coastal Zone Management Plan. In Puerto Rico, a Coastal Zone Management Consistency Concurrence is required from the Puerto Rico Planning Board. In the Virgin Islands, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources permit constitutes compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Plan.
REQUEST FOR PUBLIC HEARING: Any person may request a public hearing. The request must be submitted in writing to the District Engineer within the designated comment period of the notice and must state the specific reasons for requesting the public hearing.