Biological Assessment for Bald Eagle Route 624 Bridge Replacement, Cat Point Creek
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) proposes to replace the existing Route 624 bridge across Cat Point Creek in Richmond County, VA. During permit coordination, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) identified Cat Point Creek as a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) breeding and concentration area, subject to their review. The purpose of this document is to provide a biological assessment of the potential impacts of the proposed bridge project on bald eagle populations utilizing Cat Point Creek. Cat Point Creek is one of the most pristine tributaries within the tidal-fresh reach of the Rappahannock River, a body of water that is known to be a core conservation area for the bald eagle and that has been targeted by Virginia as a significant management area for the species. In recent years, this creek has become increasingly important to three populations of bald eagles including 1) the Chesapeake Bay breeding population, 2) the southeastern breeding population that migrates up to the Bay to spend the summer months, and 3) the northeastern breeding population that migrates down to the Bay to spend the winter months. All available information was evaluated to determine the likelihood that the proposed construction project would impact bald eagle populations that utilize Cat Point Creek. In early 2006, Cat Point Creek is believed to support 8 active bald eagle nests and 2 known communal roosts. The bridge project is outside the management buffers for all known nests and roost areas and so, under Virginia management guidelines, is not subject to activity or time-of-year restrictions based on nests and roosts. Cat Point Creek and the Route 624 bridge are within the Rappahannock River Summer Bald Eagle Concentration Area. However, there are no shoreline segments along the creek currently delineated as high-use for eagles during the summer period due to the lack of survey information. For this reason, the bridge does not fall within any ¼ mile buffer of a high-use shoreline and the construction project is not expected to impact over- summering eagles, nor is it subject to current management guidelines due to over-summering birds. Cat Point Creek and the Route 624 bridge are within the Rappahannock River Winter Bald Eagle Concentration Area. In recent years, the east shoreline above and below the bridge has been documented as one of the highest use shorelines within the concentration area. Under current Virginia guidelines, the bridge project is subject to time-of-year restrictions from 1 November through 28 February. The proposed bridge design will raise the height of the bridge from its current level of 4 feet to 10 feet above mean high water. This proposed increase in clearance will open the upper reach of the creek to increased boat traffic. However, current Virginia management guidelines to not apply to this scenario with regard to eagle nests or communal roosts. In addition, the shoreline above the Route 624 bridge has not been delineated as a high-use shoreline for either winter or summer due to the lack of survey information such that current guidelines do not restrict this action based on identified foraging areas for migrant birds.