It’s all about the bat.
A native Floridian bat plays a significant role in a case before the Federal Communications Commission after a broadcasting firm failed to determine if the habitat of the endangered bat would be impacted by a new communications tower.
As a result, the Fort Myers Broadcasting Co. has agreed to pay a $20,000 as part of a consent decree between FMBC and the FCC.
FCC rules require a licensee to determine if its proposed facilities might have a significant impact on the environment by preparing an environmental assessment (EA), during which a licensee needs to determine if the proposed site would affect threatened or endangered species and their habitat. These rules must be followed before any work begins at the site.
In the summer of 2020, according to an FCC summary, FMBC began assessing a site in Southwest Florida that it was considering for a new wireless communications tower. The area is within Punta Gorda, Fla., and is home to the endangered Florida bonneted bat, found only in South Florida, making its nests in wetlands, cliff crevices and tree cavities.
The FCC says that in August 2020, without first finishing a required environmental review of the site, FMBC began clearing vegetation at the tower site, two months before it completed the required FCC antenna structure registration (ASR) process as well as an environmental assessment, or EA.
In FMBC’s case, those assessments weren’t completed until November 2020.
After the application was received, the matter was referred to the commission’s Enforcement Bureau, which asked FMBC to submit a series of sworn questions about the situation. As part of the investigation, FMBC admitted it violated the environmental and ASR rules, specifically stating that it did not determine if its tower would have a significant impact on the environment before beginning to clear vegetation.
FMBC agreed to enter into a consent agreement with the bureau, admitting that its actions violated FCC environmental and ASR rules.
As part of the consent decree, FMBC must develop a compliance plan for this project, which includes creating a compliance manual, setting up a compliance training program revolving around the FCC’s environmental rules, filing several compliance reports detailing FMBC’s efforts to comply with the consent decree over the next 3 years and paying a civil penalty of $20,000.
The good news: the environmental review has been completed and the commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau found that the tower would have no significant impact on local wildlife. To offset potential impacts to the environment based by premature clearing, the FCC said FMBC voluntarily contributed to the Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Florida Bonneted Bat Fund to address the loss of any trees that could have been a potential roosting spot for the bats.