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Sewer project may harm rare species

Tom Jackson • Mar 3, 2014 at 5:58 PM

The Bay View sewer project will be good for the environment in Erie County and will make Lake Erie’s water cleaner.

But the construction to install the sewer system better not harm a rare turtle, Ohio Division of Wildlife officials say.

Erie County officials are being told to make sure Blanding’s turtle isn’t harmed by the project. The Great Lakes turtle is considered threatened in Ohio and endangered in many other states, and it’s been found in other areas of Erie County.

Wildlife officials also want to make sure the project doesn’t harm the Indiana bat, an endangered bat species, and Kirtland’s warbler, an endangered bird that migrates through Ohio.

At least Erie County health department officials trying to coordinate the project don’t have to worry about hurting bears.

A January letter from Ohio Department of Natural Resources real estate official John Kessler to Roberta Acosta, an Ohio Rural Community Assistance Program official in Toledo helping with the project, outlines the steps that must be taken to protect wildlife. The letter notes that the project is “within the range” of the black bear, a state endangered species.

Bears are pretty mobile, though, so “the project is not likely to have an impact on this species,” Kessler assured Acosta.

Erie County health department officials remain optimistic the county will obtain a big federal grant soon, allowing construction of a sewer line system that will replace aging and leaky septic tank systems blamed for fouling nearby beaches.

Bob England, director of environmental health for the Erie County Health Department, said the department plans to hire a herpetologist to make sure any Blanding’s turtles hanging around the construction site won’t be harmed and submit a report to the state.

State wildlife officials have sought to revive the Blanding’s turtle population at Erie County’s Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve by stocking it with young turtles raised by Cleveland MetroParks and by trapping and removing raccoons, who enjoy munching on turtle eggs.

The medium-sized turtle is concentrated in the Great Lakes region but ranges from as far west as Nebraska to as far east as New York.

Kessler’s letter says the construction project should avoid cutting down trees that provide roosting for the Indiana bat, such as the shagbark hickory, shellbark hickory, bitternut hickory, black ash, green ash, white ash, shingle oak, northern red oak, slippery elm, American elm, eastern cottonwood, silver maple, sassafras, post oak and American oak. If trees must be chopped down, other steps must be taken to protect the bat.

Similarly, steps should be taken to avoid harming the habitat of Kirtland’s warbler, Kessler’s letter says.

England told the health board that people and animals will both benefit when the project is completed.

“I think the turtle’s going to be better off without sewage” he said.

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