published Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Bats could delay sewer project in Marion County

  • photo
    A biologist holds an Indiana Bat caught with a net placed in the air over a logging road in Orwell, Vt. More than 60 environmental and other organizations from across the country are urging Congress to increase funding for research into a disease that is killing bats in the eastern United States.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

JASPER, Tenn. -- The discovery of an endangered bat habitat could add to the cost and length of a sewer line extension project along U.S. Highway 41 to the Shellmound Business Park.

The sewer line is being installed to accommodate construction of a Love's Travel Stop & Country Store near exit 158 off Interstate 24. The facility is scheduled to be completed in August.

The Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously in April to change the sewer line's route through the Anderson Ridge area to avoid communications cables on the north side of the highway.

At the time, Mayor Paul Evans said damaging those cables would have resulted in "major change orders" and boosted the cost of the project.

"To me, the worry is not there," he said in April. "There's nothing there. We can go through, and not have to worry about the change orders coming."

Now, the Anderson Ridge route represents the "biggest problem" for the project because an endangered Indiana bat habitat has been discovered there, Evans said.

A biologist from Cookeville, Tenn., recently completed a study of the area, which was required by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and discovered the bat habitat, he said.

A report was sent to the Fish & Wildlife Service last week, and city leaders are waiting to see if they can work around the habitat.

In the worst-case scenario, officials said the city would have to initiate a bat relocation process that would cost $250 per bat and more than $19,000 in other expenses.

It also would create at least a 60-day delay on the project, Evans said.

"We can't wait on a 60-day delay," he said. "We'll move back across the road and fight the fiber optics. That's the only thing we can do and hope that the contractor doesn't get into anything."

City Attorney Mark Raines said the problem was not caused by the city or the contractor.

"It's just an environmental circumstance," he said.

The project is 80 percent complete.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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