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Hydrokinetic Energy Facility Site Evaluation Impacts

Potential environmental impacts from site evaluation activities are generally temporary and have relatively small magnitude.

Site evaluation phase activities, such as monitoring and site characterization, are temporary and are conducted at a smaller scale than those at the construction and operation phases. Potential impacts from these activities are presented below, by the type of affected resource. The impacts described are for typical site evaluation activities, such as drilling to characterize the seabed or riverbed.

Onshore site characterization activities would be limited to a topographic survey to establish onshore site design and placement for an operations and maintenance facility, substation, and electric transmission lines. If road construction were necessary during this phase, potential impacts would be similar in character to those for the construction phase, but generally of smaller magnitude.

Measures to avoid or mitigate impacts are identified in the Mitigation Measures section. The following potential impacts may result from hydrokinetic energy site evaluation activities.

Acoustics (Noise)

Onshore and offshore drilling activities for all hydrokinetic energy facilities, if required, would generate the most noise during this phase, but impacts would be much lower than those that could occur during construction. Surveys using air-gun arrays may generate low-frequency noise that may be detected by marine mammals, sea turtles, and fish within the survey area. Other sea and river geophysical surveys and installation of wave measuring devices equipped with recording equipment would generate some ship and boat noise.

Air Quality (Including Global Climate Change and Carbon Footprint)

Impacts to air quality during site evaluation activities would be limited to the emissions from boats or barges conducting surveys, and vehicular traffic to proposed sites for all hydrokinetic energy land-based facilities. These air pollutant emissions would be minor, of short duration, and intermittent.

Cultural Resources

Cultural material present within the project area could be impacted by any seafloor, riverbed, or ground disturbance. Such disturbance could result from drilling and sampling activities and, for land-based activities, vehicular and pedestrian traffic. These activities would be relatively limited in scope during this phase.

Surveys conducted during this phase to evaluate the presence and/or significance of cultural resources in the area would assist developers in designing the project to avoid or minimize impacts to these resources.

Ecological Resources

Impacts to ecological resources would be minimal during site evaluation because of the limited nature of the activities.

For offshore projects (e.g., wave, barrage, and tidal turbine projects) and river projects, the potential effects of low-energy geological and geophysical surveys on marine mammals, sea turtles, and fish could include behavioral responses such as avoidance and deflections in travel direction. A few individuals could be injured or killed by collisions with the survey vessels. Those individuals displaced because of avoidance behaviors during surveys are likely to return within relatively short periods following cessation of survey activities.

Marine mammals, sea turtles, and fish could be exposed to discharges or accidental fuel releases from survey vessels and to accidentally released solid debris. Such spills would be small and would not be expected to measurably affect marine or river wildlife.

Land-based activities could give rise to the introduction and spread of invasive vegetation as a result of vehicular traffic. Soil borings would destroy vegetation and disturb wildlife. Overall, site evaluations are not expected to cause significant impacts to terrestrial or aquatic biota.

Surveys conducted during this phase to evaluate the presence and/or significance of ecological resources in the area would assist developers in properly locating the facility and its components.

Environmental Justice

Site evaluation activities are limited and would not result in significant adverse impacts in any resource area; therefore, environmental justice impacts are not expected at this phase.

Hazardous Materials and Waste Management

The only hazardous material associated with site evaluation activities would be the fuel for boats, barges, and vehicles. Impacts from operational discharges, accidental fuel releases, and accidentally released solid debris are expected to be small or nonexistent if appropriate management practices are followed.

Human Health and Safety

The primary hazard associated with site evaluation is the risk of drowning while working on or above water. The potential health and safety risks that could result in injuries and fatalities include onboard accidents; collisions between the survey ship and marine vessels; and natural events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and severe storms.

Occupational and public health and safety risks normally associated with construction and outdoor activities (working in potential weather extremes and possible contact with natural hazards, such as uneven terrain and dangerous plants, animals, or insects) exist, but are very limited during the site evaluation phase, because of the limited range of activities and number of workers.

Land Use

Very few offshore and onshore site evaluation activities are expected; consequently, no impacts to existing land uses are anticipated.

Paleontological Resources

Paleontological resources present within the project area could be impacted by any seafloor, riverbed, or ground disturbance. Such disturbance could result from drilling and sampling activities and, for land-based activities, vehicular and pedestrian traffic. These activities would be very limited in scope during this phase and would not be likely to affect paleontological resources.

Surveys conducted during this phase to evaluate the presence and/or significance of paleontological resources in the area would assist developers in designing the project to avoid or minimize impacts to these resources.

Socioeconomics

Site evaluation activities are temporary and limited and would not result in socioeconomic impacts on employment, local services, or property values.

Soils and Geologic Resources

Seabed, riverbed, and onshore ground disturbances would be minimal during the site evaluation phase and, as a result, impacts to seabed and riverbed sediments or soils are unlikely to occur. Site characterization activities would also be unlikely to activate geological hazards.

Transportation

Impacts on transportation are anticipated to be insignificant during the site evaluation phase from the one or two survey vessels that might be deployed at any one time. Vehicular traffic would be temporary and intermittent, and limited to very low volumes of heavy- and medium-duty equipment and personal vehicles.

Visual Resources

Site evaluation activities would have temporary and minor visual effects caused by the presence of survey vessels, workers, vehicles, and equipment.

Water Resources (Surface Water and Groundwater)

Survey ships could contribute small amounts of fuel or oil to the ocean or river through bilge discharges or leaks. Anchoring of the ships can cause sediment from the seabed or riverbed to enter the water column. Negligible to minor impact to water quality would be expected. Relatively limited amounts of water would be used if drilling were required; this water could be obtained locally or it could be trucked in with the drilling equipment. Land-based site evaluation activities are anticipated to have minimal to no impact to water resources, local water quality, water flows, and surface water/groundwater interactions.