Draft Finding of No
Significant Impact

Name of the Proposed Action
Environmental Assessment for the ENMR Telephone Cooperative Fiber Optic Telephone Cable Line Project

Description of the Proposed Action
Under the Proposed Action, ENMR Telephone Cooperative (ENMR) is proposing to install one subsurface fiber-optic segment, with a length of 6.2 miles (31,966 feet), in Socorro County, New Mexico, across White Sands Missile Range (WSMR)-managed (17,190 feet), New Mexico State Land Office (SLO)-managed (13,705 feet), and private (1,071 feet) land (see environmental assessment Figure A.1 in Appendix A). The Proposed Action will result in short-term surface disturbance of 22.5 acres total, of which approximately 12 acres will occur on WSMR-managed land. Long-term disturbance on WSMR-managed land will be approximately 0.01 acre. The fiber-optic cable system consists of either direct bury fiber-optic cable or buried 1.25-inch-diameter inner-duct fiber-optic cable totaling 3.3 miles (17,190 feet).
The project will require approximately 10 buried fiber-optic vaults within the 20-foot right-of-way (ROW) for the operation of the fiber-optic line, including 24 × 36 × 30–inch fiber vaults or 48 × 32 × 36–inch fiber vaults (see environmental assessment Figure C.1 in Appendix C). In addition, there will be 6 × 6–foot broadband loop carrier fiber-optic cabinets, which are aboveground structures (see environmental assessment Figure C.2). Existing access roads will be used to access the construction ROW. No new permanent access roads would be constructed.
Environmental analysis of the proposed action has focused on the following proposed construction and operation activities: pre-construction surveying, construction mobilization, construction of the fiber optic cable corridor, burying the cable, clean up and restoration, and period inspection of the right-of-way.

Purpose and Need
The purpose of the project is to provide high-speed telecommunications services within rural areas of New Mexico. The project is needed to improve broadband internet access to rural communities in this critical time of home-based schooling and employment, and to support the needs outlined in the New Mexico Broadband Access Expansion Act (2021 New Mexico Senate Bill 93). New Mexico ranks 42nd in the nation for broadband connection, with 22% of the population considered unserved. The project would provide equitable access to information for those residents working or learning remotely, as well as rural businesses, and is necessary for developing infrastructure improvements. Quality broadband connections serve not only local residents but also critical New Mexico industries such as agriculture and small farms, health care, education, and energy development.

Alternatives Considered
Two alternatives were analyzed in the environmental assessment: the proposed action and the no action alternative. The proposed action (ENMR’s preferred alternative) will follow the route identified in environmental assessment Figure A.1, which is located approximately 125 feet north of U.S. 380 and crosses 3.3 miles of WSMR-managed land.
Under the no action alternative, WSMR would deny the ROW grant. ENMR would not be permitted to construct the project on WSMR-managed land. Current land use in the area would continue. In addition, the No Action Alternative would not meet the purpose and need of the project.

Environmental Consequences
Potential impacts to the natural and human environment as a result of the proposed fiber optic project were evaluated in the environmental assessment to provide a basis for assessing their significance.
During construction, impacts will include soil compaction from heavy equipment, removed vegetation cover, increased soil erosion from the removal of vegetative cover, and potential contamination from accidental spills or leaks from construction equipment. Once the project has been constructed, the surface disturbance not needed for production of the project will be stabilized and reclaimed. Stabilization of soils would be partly dependent upon reestablishing vegetation cover. With sufficient rainfall and proper seeding techniques, vegetation cover by faster-growing plants is expected within 2 years after construction.
Impacts to wildlife during construction will include the removal of existing vegetation, risk of direct mortality of individuals during construction, loss or degradation of native habitat, and temporary displacement of wildlife from the area due to construction activities and associated noise disturbance. No adverse impacts to MBTA-protected species are expected from the project. If construction were to occur during the migratory bird nesting season (March 1–August 31), a preconstruction nest survey up to 7 days prior to vegetation removal will be conducted to ensure that no active nests or burrows are impacted by the project. Coordination with the WSMR Environmental Division Conservation Branch Wildlife Biologists will occur to ensure proper survey standards are met. If occupied bird nests or burrows are identified during a preconstruction nest survey, avoidance mitigation will be employed by delaying construction near any occupied nests until nestlings have fledged to avoid MBTA violations.
Less than 0.1 acre of surface disturbance per drainage will occur within the three surface water features identified during the biological survey. Any impacts to these features would be temporary because the fiber-optic line will be trenched through the drainages and then the project area will be reclaimed with erosion control measures. Temporary impacts to the surface water features will be mitigated by following Nationwide Permit (NWP) 57 (Electric Utility Line and Telecommunications Activities) conditions and State of New Mexico Water Quality Certification guidelines. NWP 57 has a threshold of a maximum of 0.5 acre of permanent impacts per feature crossing. If permanent impacts from the project components exceed 0.1 acre (but are less than 0.5 acre), a preconstruction notification will be submitted to the USACE to review and verify that the activity meets all the terms and conditions of the NWP program.
The project is intended to expand broadband internet access throughout Socorro County. The particular project route crossing WSMR-managed land will serve two residential properties and one communication site. These beneficial impacts are directly related to the purpose and need for the project, which include improved access to employment, education, and health care digital resources. Socorro County can be considered an environmental justice community; therefore, the project will result in beneficial environmental justice impacts to two residential properties.
The NGA survey monument will be protected during construction to ensure it is not disturbed, damaged, or destroyed by the project.

The proposed action, in conjunction with mitigation measures specified within the environmental assessment, would result in no significant impacts on the environment. Applicable Federal, State, and local laws and regulations would be followed. Accordingly, the U.S. Army and WSMR have determined that an environmental impact statement (EIS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy act is not required, and this Finding of No Significant Impact is hereby submitted.

Draft Availability and Points of Contact: The White Sands Missile Range invites members of the public to comment on the draft EA. The draft EA and FNSI are available digitally at https://www.plateautel.com/ReConnectEA. Hardcopies are available to the public by sending a request using the contact information below, or at the following public repositories:

Socorro Public Library
401 Park Street
Socorro, New Mexico 87801

Alamogordo Public Library
920 Oregon Avenue
Alamogordo, New Mexico 88310

Publication website, https://www.plateautel.com/ReConnectEA

Written comments concerning the draft EA should be directed to the White Sands Missile Range Garrison Environmental Division. The publication of this notice serves as the start of the 30-day comment period. All comments must be received no later than 30-days after publication to the following address, e-mail or fax:
U.S. Army Garrison White Sands
Directorate of Public Works, Environmental Division
Attn: Customer Support, ENMR Telephone Cooperative Fiber Optic Project
BLDG 163
White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico 88002
Email: [email protected]
Fax: (575) 678-2048

Published in the El Defensor Chieftain on April 7, 2022