Green Guide

Slow-speed ahead: Endangered snails add time, cost to bridge

Posted September 20

— The presence of three endangered snail species in Limestone Creek may have delayed replacement of a flood-damaged bridge and inflated the cost.

Limestone County officials said Monday state officials have notified them the cost of replacing the old Highway 20 bridge would cost about $1.6 million, compared to an initial estimate of about $1 million.

"They found three different species of endangered snails," said Commissioner Jason Black. "It sounds frivolous, but really it's not."

The bridge has been closed since flooding on Christmas Day washed out one of its footers, making it unsafe for vehicle traffic.

Assistant county engineer Marc Massey said the presence of the snails in the creek means construction crews won't be allowed to place footers in the water or use fill-dirt in the construction.

That means engineers had to design a longer, single-span bridge — one that doesn't utilize footers — to keep from disturbing the waterway. The inability to use fill-dirt means the bridge must be longer.

Massey said the new bridge will be about 180 feet long, including approaches, compared to the current bridge's 96 feet. County officials had already planned on a single-span bridge to prevent future wash-outs, but not the extra length.

"We can't construct anything in the creek," Massey said, adding that they will be allowed to tear the old bridge's footers out.

A required pre-construction environmental survey covered about 400 yards of the creek around the bridge and found it was home to three protected species of snails: the Anthony's riversnail, the armored snail and the slender compeloma.

Armored snails have been on the endangered species list since 2000 and are found only in Limestone and Madison counties, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The slender compeloma also has been on the endangered species list since 2000 and is found only in Limestone, Madison and Lauderdale counties.

Anthony's riversnails have been listed as endangered since 1994 and are found only in Limestone, Jackson, Madison and Morgan counties in Alabama and parts of Tennessee.

Black described discovery of the protected snails as a "hold-up," noting he gets regular calls from constituents who want the bridge open as soon as possible.

"They do not care about the snails," he said, "but there's nothing we can do about it. The protections are there to protect all species."

Black said farmers in the area use the bridge to move machinery between fields on opposite sides of the creek.

Whatever the cost, the county won't be on the hook to pay for the bridge. The county is approved for 80 percent reimbursement through the Federal Highway Administration's Emergency Relief Fund, and Chairman Mark Yarbrough said the state agreed to cover the required 20 percent match with discretionary funds.

Massey estimated the county would open the project for bids in December or January and said it could be late next year before the bridge is re-opened. He estimated the delay to starting replacement was about a month.

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