Application for the Cruise Ship CORAL PRINCESS, Review for Inclusion in the Shipboard Technology Evaluation Program; Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact

Summary

The Coast Guard announces the availability of the Final Environmental Assessment (FEA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) that evaluated the potential environmental impacts resulting from accepting the cruise ship CORAL PRINCESS into the Shipboard Technology Evaluation Program (STEP). The CORAL PRINCESS runs four regular cruising routes that include Alaska, California, the Panama Canal, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida. Under the STEP, the CORAL PRINCESS will be using and testing the Hyde Marine, INC. Guardian Ballast Water Treatment System, when the vessel operates in U.S. waters.

Full text

SUMMARY: The Coast Guard announces the availability of the Final 
Environmental Assessment (FEA) and Finding of No Significant Impact 
(FONSI) that evaluated the potential environmental impacts resulting 
from accepting the cruise ship CORAL PRINCESS into the Shipboard 
Technology Evaluation Program (STEP). The CORAL PRINCESS runs four 
regular cruising routes that include Alaska, California, the Panama 
Canal, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida. Under the STEP, the CORAL 
PRINCESS will be using and testing the Hyde Marine, INC. Guardian 
Ballast Water Treatment System, when the vessel operates in U.S. 
waters.

ADDRESSES: Comments and material received from the public, as well as 
documents mentioned in this notice as being available in the docket, 
are part of the docket USCG-2007-0040. These documents are available 
for inspection or copying at the Docket Management Facility (M-30), 
U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room 
W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington, DC 20590-0001, 
between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal 
holidays. You can also find all docketed documents on the Federal 
Document Management System at http://www.regulations.gov, United States 
Coast Guard docket number USCG-2007-0040.
    You may submit comments identified by docket number USCG-2007-0040 
using any one of the following methods:
    (1) Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.
    (2) Fax: 202-493-2251.
    (3) Mail: Docket Management Facility (M-30), U.S. Department of 
Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New 
Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590-0001.
    (4) Hand delivery: Same as mail address above, between 9 a.m. and 5 
p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays. The telephone 
number is 202-366-9329.
    To avoid duplication, please use only one of these methods.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: If you have questions on this 
assessment please contact LCDR Brian Moore at 202-372-1434 or e-mail: 
brian.e.moore@uscg.mil. If you have questions on viewing or submitting 
material to the docket, call Renee V. Wright, Program Manager, Docket 
Operations, telephone 202-366-9826.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: This document has been tiered off the 
Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the STEP dated July 
2004 (69 FR 71068, Dec. 8, 2004) and was prepared in accordance with 
the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (Section 102 (2)(c)), as 
implemented by the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations (40 CFR 
parts 1500-1508) and Coast Guard Commandant Instruction M16475.1D. From 
these documents the Coast Guard has prepared a FEA and FONSI for 
accepting the CORAL PRINCESS into the STEP.
    Response to Comments: The Coast Guard requested comments on the 
Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) when the Notice of Availability 
and Request for Public Comments was published on Friday, April 4, 2008 
(73 FR 18544, Apr. 4, 2008). The Coast Guard received 19 substantive 
comments total from 2 agencies. The Coast Guard has responded to all of 
the comments that were within the scope of DEA.
    Both commenters stated their support for the CORAL PRINCESS 
acceptance into the STEP, and that the application should be granted.
    The Coast Guard appreciates the support for including the CORAL 
PRINCESS into the STEP.
    One commenter asked why California and the U.S. Virgin Islands 
(USVI) were not included in the assessment as possible discharge ports, while 
Florida and Alaska were included.
    The California port was not included because the FEA only addressed 
ports where ballast water discharge will take place. The vessel will 
not discharge ballast water into California State waters. Therefore, no 
discussion of California ports has been included. The USVI ports were 
included in the applicable sections of the DEA and FEA.
    One commenter asked for clarification regarding Table 2-1. The 
commenter questioned the allotted number of port arrivals, and stated 
that a vessel would make significantly more arrivals at those 10 ports.
    The Coast Guard agrees with the comment; there may be up to 18 
arrivals at any of the ports noted in the DEA and has changed this 
number accordingly in the FEA. However, this does not mean there would 
be an associated proportional increase in the amount of treated ballast 
water (BW) that would be discharged into port. The vessel infrequently 
takes on BW at any port and on the rare occasions when it does, it 
typically discharges that water prior to departure. Therefore, the 
additional number of port visits does not necessarily result in an 
increase in the amount of water treated with the system or carried to a 
different port or place and discharged.
    One commenter asked if the CORAL PRINCESS would be treating ballast 
during all ballasting operations from years one through five, and if 
the testing in the other years will be for operation and maintenance.
    The Coast Guard has clarified this issue by adding a summary of the 
STEP procedures into the introduction of the FEA.
    One commenter asked how long it would take a vessel to ballast, and 
if the filter is backflushed at the end of ballasting. The commenter 
also asked if the filtered organisms will be returned to their point of 
uptake.
    The Coast Guard has determined that the vessel normally takes on 
ballast at sea and discharges that ballast also at sea. If and when it 
does take on ballast at sea (which has historically been small amounts 
of water), the vessel will move a short distance between the time 
uptake began to the point at which the filter would begin backflushing. 
During this time, the Coast Guard believes the vessel will take 
approximately a half hour to fill a BW tank completely at the ballast 
water pumping rate (250 m\3\/hr). At the vessel's normal operating 
speeds, (12-22 kts) it will have traveled less than 20 nautical miles 
in this time.
    One commenter requested a list of the State codes for turbidity 
requirements and interpretations on how the assessment's findings 
compare to the State code.
    The Coast Guard disagrees with the request. In both the PEA and 
this FEA, the potential impacts due to turbidity were considered and 
were deemed to be negligible; therefore the additional background 
information requested would unnecessarily encumber the FEA, detracting 
from its purpose.
    Two comments asked if the 55 microns referred to the length/width 
of the mesh openings (typical for 55 micron mesh nets), or the diagonal 
opening. The comments expressed concern that if the length/width is 55 
microns, the diagonal length would be approximately 78 microns and this 
would allow organisms larger than 55 microns to pass through the 
filter.
    The Coast Guard, in reviewing the STEP application package, has 
determined that the filtration system has an actual opening dimension 
of 55 microns using stacked filtration discs, rather than the mesh 
screen type assumed by the comments. With respect to the commenters' 
other concern, the Coast Guard notes that the initial filtration stage 
is only the first part of the overall treatment system. The purpose of 
the experimentation conducted during the vessel's participation in the 
STEP is to evaluate the efficacy of the entire treatment system in 
reducing the discharge of organisms.
    One commenter asked for clarification regarding the statement ``* * 
* at 90% UV [Ultraviolet] transmittance in the water.'' The commenter 
asked if the 90% transmittance is typical of the water that would be 
taken up at the specific ports described in the assessment. The 
commenter also expressed that this value would decrease in turbid 
water, especially in the Alaskan waters that were highly turbid due to 
glacial melt runoff.
    The Coast Guard acknowledges that many source waters may have 
varying transmittance values. However, the UV treatment occurs after 
the water has passed through the filtration system, which is intended 
to remove at least some of the suspended materials which would block UV 
transmission as well as removing larger organisms. The Coast Guard 
notes that the point of the experiments is to evaluate the efficacy of 
the treatment system under the operating conditions experienced by the 
vessel.
    One commenter asked if there was any specific, pertinent 
information on Alaskan wetlands that should be included in the FEA.
    While there is significant information concerning Alaskan wetlands 
available, the Coast Guard disagrees that the description of sensitive 
areas in Alaskan waters as presented in the DEA is insufficient to make 
a decision regarding the STEP acceptance. The vessel will only be 
visiting areas that it is already visiting and will not be discharging 
treated water in any such wetland areas.
    One commenter asked if any Essential Fish Habitat was within the 
Port Everglades region.
    The available information on Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) shows 
that the Port Everglades area has the following EFH: Coastal Migratory 
Pelagics and Coral, Coral Reef, and Live/Hard Bottom Habitat. Based on 
feedback from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National 
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the proposed action will have no 
negative impact to EFH in Port Everglades.
    One commenter asked that more detail regarding the area(s) around 
several of the ports be included.
    The Coast Guard has added additional detail to the description of 
Port Everglades and USVI waters.
    One commenter asked how many and what types of invasive species are 
found around Port Everglades. The commenter also asked if any of these 
species have been known to cause any environmental or economic harm.
    It is not possible to make a definitive statement about exact 
numbers of invasive species in any given water body. Some notable 
species have been identified and their economic and environmental harm 
estimated. This information is readily available through numerous 
Nonindigenous Species (NIS) focused agency reports and work groups. The 
Coast Guard disagrees that enumeration of specific invasive species 
occurring in the relevant ports, and further discussion of the 
potential risk of transferring those specific species from Florida to 
other places, is necessary or useful for the purpose of this FEA. 
Further, the purpose of any ballast water management system being 
evaluated under the STEP is to prevent the transference of any 
organisms, whether known to be invasive or not, from one location to 
another.
    One commenter requested a list of NIS and if any of these species 
have been known to cause any environmental or economic harm.
    The Coast Guard has determined that the problem of NIS in U.S. 
waters is the basis of the STEP, and research on NIS and their impacts 
is readily available from numerous sources. This question is outside the scope of the FEA, 
and in keeping with CEQ regulations for conducting FEAs, the extensive 
supporting information is not repeated here.
    One commenter asked for clarification regarding the statement 
``Small percentages of estuarine areas in the ports of interest were 
rated `poor' * * *''. The commenter asked if it would be possible to 
avoid discharging in these areas, or to list which ports have poor 
light conditions. The commenter also asked what was meant by the 
description ``small percentages''.
    The Coast Guard has determined that the areas that are rated as 
poor for light conditions are rated so due to the natural ambient 
condition of glacial till suspended in the water. While it could be 
possible for the CORAL PRINCESS to restrict its ballasting locations, 
the Coast Guard disagrees with the need to do so in these or any other 
areas. The very small volumes of water which could potentially be 
discharged during operation of the ship's BWMS have been considered and 
determined negligible. ``Small percentages'' refers to the waters in 
the immediate vicinity of glacier termini.
    One commenter stated that the environmental consequences are 
generalized across all regions, with little to no specific reference to 
any of the previously described discharge ports. The commenter asked 
that specific examples of environmental consequences for the various 
habitats/ports be provided.
    The Coast Guard has determined that the water quality impacts on 
the ballast water taken aboard the CORAL PRINCESS will be negligible; 
therefore, generalization of the environmental impacts invalid. The 
addition of repetitive specific impacts in effected ports would 
unnecessarily lengthen the FEA. Based on the service history of the 
CORAL PRINCESS, most ballasting is done at sea and is in small amounts. 
When harbor water is intentionally pumped aboard for the tests, it will 
also be discharged at sea following treatment. The proposal does 
provide for the CORAL PRINCESS to use the Ballast Water Management 
System as needed and occasionally a need to ballast in a port area may 
be encountered. However, the Coast Guard considers the potential for 
any adverse effects from ballasting, filtering, treating with 
ultraviolet light and discharging relatively small quantities of sea 
water back to its source to be negligible for all potential discharge 
locations. As a result of the NEPA process, the only known impacts are 
a slight beneficial impact on biological resources and socioeconomic 
resources. Therefore, further describing habitat or location specific 
impacts is not necessary.
    One commenter asked what references and/or data were used to 
support the conclusions about water quality impacts of the proposed 
action alternative.
    The Coast Guard has used the following rationale for the 
description of likely impacts of using the system. The ship normally 
takes on and discharges ballast at sea. In these cases, typically there 
are fewer organisms in offshore waters compared to estuarine areas, and 
hence less organic matter to be taken aboard, treated and discharged. 
Similarly in the cases where the ship may take on and discharge ballast 
in port, the use of the treatment system should have no measurable 
adverse effects on the water quality of the ecosystem where the ballast 
water is discharged.
    One commenter asked how nonindigenous species impact low income and 
minority populations under the no action alternative.
    The Coast Guard has determined that an example of a potential 
impact to a low income or minority population might be that a decline 
in abundance of a species targeted by subsistence fisheries could occur 
as a result of the introduction of nonindigenous competitors, 
predators, or pathogens. Please refer to the STEP Programmatic 
Environmental Assessment that also evaluated the impacts to low income 
and minority populations.
    Based on the information provided in the DEA, one commenter stated 
that the STEP program meets their environmental standards, and is not 
likely to adversely affect federally listed threatened or endangered 
species under their jurisdiction.
    The Coast Guard acknowledges the comment and support for the CORAL 
PRINCESS and the STEP application.
    Final Environmental Assessment: The Final PEA for the STEP 
identified and examined the reasonable alternatives available to 
evaluate novel ballast water management systems for effectiveness 
against NIS transportation by ships' ballast water.
    The FEA for acceptance of the CORAL PRINCESS into the STEP, and the 
subsequent operation of the experimental treatment system, analyzed the 
no action alternative and one action alternative that could fulfill the 
purpose and need of gaining valuable scientific information on the 
system's efficacy and facilitating the development of effective 
treatment technologies capable of preventing the transportation of NIS 
in ships' ballast water. Specifically, the FEA for the CORAL PRINCESS 
acceptance into the STEP is tiered off of the PEA for the STEP, and 
considers the potential impacts to the environment from the operation 
of the treatment system on the CORAL PRINCESS by examining the 
functioning of the system, the operational practices of the vessel, and 
the potential effects on discharge water quality.
    This notice is issued under authority of the National Environmental 
Policy Act of 1969 (Section 102 (2)(c)), as implemented by the Council 
of Environmental Quality regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508) and Coast 
Guard Commandant Instruction M16475.1D.

    Dated: November 21, 2008.
Brian M. Salerno,
Rear Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard, Assistant Commandant for Marine Safety, 
Security and Stewardship.
 [FR Doc. E8-28473 Filed 11-28-08; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4910-15-P  

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