National Grid May Get into Butterfly Business

National Grid is seeking to renew its permit to work freely in areas inhabited by two species of protected butterflies in the region – and will create new butterfly sanctuaries as part of the deal.

The permit, which could last for 50 years, would exonerate the electric and gas company from penalties should workers accidently harm or kill butterflies while performing routine maintenance activities in several areas across the state, including portions of Warren and Saratoga counties.

“I think both the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the DEC recognize that National Grid’s vegetation management activities on these right of ways over the years help promote and support some of the last remaining holdouts of this habitat,” said Mike Sherman, a National Grid environmental engineer.

As part of National Grid’s agreement, the company would create a 5-acre sanctuary in Queensbury and develop a 23-acre preserve in Albany next to the existing Albany Pine Bush Preserve to offset possible losses to the Karner blue butterfly, an endangered species, and the at-risk frosted elfin.

Other key mitigation efforts include educating employees about the issue, a restriction on mowing and herbicide use, sending letters to nearby properties and working with police to keep all-terrain vehicle riders from trespassing in sensitive areas.

Individuals who deliberately disregard the federal Endangered Species Act can face fines up to $25,000 for each violation or criminal penalties that include up to a $50,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

National Grid submitted a 60-page mitigation plan to the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is available online at www.fws.gov/northeast/nyfo. The agency is currently seeking public comments until Dec. 19.

“We want to make sure the measures being taken for mitigation are successful and the most effective,” said Meagan Racey, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman.

If the agency receives a significant number of comments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could have National Grid revise the plan, or the agency could update its review of the plan.

The Karner blue butterfly relies on a wild flower for food called the blue lupine. Many of the utility company’s power lines are above sandy areas with low vegetation and little tree cover, an ideal environment for the flowers.

One of those areas includes power lines near the Ogden Brook substation along Upper Sherman Avenue in Queensbury, where the company would create a sanctuary. That would require National Grid to clear trees, said Sherman, who has led efforts in developing the mitigation plan.

He said the company would add barriers like boulders or gates to the area, where ATVs have trespassed in the past.

The mitigation plan projects that up to 29.3 acres of butterfly habitat could be temporarily disturbed and 3.5 acres could be permanently disturbed.

The company would respond to those possible disturbances, known as “incidental takes,” with 59 acres of additional habitat.

National Grid expects to spend a total cost, which includes implementing and maintaining the program, of $5.98 million.

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