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Oncor to host public hearing concerning habitat conservation  

Credit:  By Hannah Boen, Abilene Reporter-News, www.reporternews.com 12 August 2011 ~~

Oncor Electric Delivery has scheduled a public hearing in Sweetwater later this month for discussion of a habitat conservation plan drawn up by the company, but officials say the plan is not specifically tied to the company’s efforts to expand electricity transmission lines throughout the state.

Oncor is one of several companies building transmission lines in what is labeled the Central Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ).

Oncor, which says it operates the largest system in Texas for distribution and transmission of electricity,is in the process of laying 1,000 miles of transmission lines as part of the statewide initiative to carry wind power to metropolitan areas.

To keep up with electricity needs throughout the state, the company is planning to build and expand transmission lines across Texas over the course of the next several decades, said Oncor spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar.

To complete future construction projects, permits must be obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the safety and protection of threatened and endangered species within the state.

That process started with a habitat conservation plan drawn up by Oncor consultants.

Then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responded with an environmental-impact statement.

The habitat conservation plan is a 315-page document detailing the steps Oncor plans to take to avoid or minimize potential impact on 11 species within the 101-county area served by Oncor that could be threatened as a result of proposed construction projects.

Christina Williams, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Oncor could continue construction without a permit, Williams said, but likely would violate the Endangered Species Act in doing so.

In October 2009, Oncor hosted nine public meetings to provide a general background of the proposed habitat conservation plan and solicit suggestions from the public.

Of those nine meetings in nine locations across the state, a total of nine people showed up, Williams said.

Considering the participation in the initial meetings, the company decided to hold three public hearings to get final feedback from residents.

The Sweetwater meeting is scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at Texas State Technical College in Sweetwater.

Cuellar said Oncor operates in more than 400 cities and towns in Texas.

Among the species potentially threatened by expansions are several varieties of endangered plants and birds.

Cuellar said the habitat conservation plan is not specifically tied to the CREZ project, rather the plan is to address future issues that may arise.

“We don’t have a crystal ball to see where industries and cities are going to develop,” she said. “This is a plan to take a proactive, comprehensive look to minimize impact in the future.”

Species that could be affected are:

Plants

Large-fruited sand-verbena – Listed as endangered in Texas and in the U.S., this plant has stems up to 20 inches tall covered with sticky hairs and has round clusters of pink-purple flowers up to 4 inches across. This plant is endangered because many areas of sandy soils have been cleared of native vegetation and planted to pasture grass. This plant lives in sandy openings in post oak woods.

Navasota ladies’-tresses – Listed as endangered in Texas and in the U.S., this plant is a member of the orchid family. There are more than a dozen different ladies’-tresses in Texas, and most produce a single slender, twisted spike of tiny white flowers. This plant is often found in wet areas and has been impacted by habitat loss and degradation due to urban development, road construction, lignite mining and oil and gas development. This plant is endemic to the Oak Woodlands and Prairies region of East-Central Texas.

Pecos sunflower – Listed as threatened in Texas and in the U.S., this plant is known to grow in Pecos and Reeves counties within the state. It grows in saturated saline soils of desert wetlands and some activities that degrade or destroy wetlands include erosion, groundwater depletion and water diversions.

Texas poppy-mallow – Listed as endangered in Texas and in the U.S., this is a deep red to purple cup-shaped flower with stems as thick as a pencil. They grow only in windblown, river-deposited deep sands near the upper Colorado River in Coke, Mitchell and Runnels counties in Texas. This plant is endangered because of habitat loss due to farming, pasture planting, sand mining and urban development.

Invertebrates

American burying beetle – This beetle is endangered and a critical habitat has not been designated. This nocturnal beetle lives for one year and typically reproduces only once. The body of the beetle is shiny and black and has hardened protective wing covers that meet in a straight line down the back. The cause for the decline of this species is not clearly understood.

Amphibians/Reptiles

Houston toad – This species is listed as endangered in Texas and the U.S. It is generally 2 to 3½ inches long and coloration varies from light brown to gray or purplish gray. They live primarily on land and burrow in the sand in extreme weather. The largest population of Houston toads exists in Bastrop County and they require loose, deep sands supporting woodland savanna and still or flowing waters for breeding. Among the reasons for the decline of this toad is periodic drought, particularly long-term drought.

Birds

Black-capped vireo – This bird is listed as endangered in Texas and the U.S. It’s a small bird, typically growing to 4½ inches in length. It nests in Texas from April to July and travels to the western coast of Mexico for the winter months. These birds are found throughout the Edwards Plateau and eastern Trans-Pecos regions of Texas. They are on the decline because the low growing woody cover they need for nesting has been cleared of overgrazed by livestock and deer.

Golden-cheeked warbler – This bird is listed as endangered in Texas and the U.S. The birds eat insects and spiders and nest only in the mixed Ashe-juniper and oak woodlands in ravines and canyons in Central Texas. They can be found in the Edwards Plateau and Palo Pinto County. They have become endangered because of the construction of roads and structures.

Red-cockaded woodpecker – This bird is listed as endangered in Texas and the U.S. This species lives in family groups, which may include a male and female, their chicks and young adult “helpers.” They live in open pine forests with large, widely spaced older trees and can be found in the Pineywoods of East Texas. They are endangered because the open forests with big, older pines have been replaced with smaller pines. Also, periodic natural fires that keep pinewoods open have been suppressed since settlement.

Whooping crane – This bird is listed as endangered in Texas and the U.S. The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America with a wingspan of 7½ feet. This bird breeds in the wetlands of Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and spends the winter on the Texas coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport. The greatest threats to the species are man-made, including power lines, illegal hunting and habitat loss.

Species list sources: www.fws.gov, www.tpwd.gov

Source:  By Hannah Boen, Abilene Reporter-News, www.reporternews.com 12 August 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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