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Environmental Studies Slow Progress On Louisburg Bridge Repair

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LOUISBURG, N.C. — Looking out for Mother Earth can be tough to take when a tiny endangered creature forces drivers to travel extra miles. That's the case near Louisburg, where the dwarf wedge mussel has slowed a bridge repair project to a crawl.

The West River Road Bridge in Franklin County is still washed out from the flood caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto in June. Instead of a straight 3-mile trip into town, drivers must now take a 20-mile roundabout.

A temporary footbridge has been set up at the site. But it could take nine months to get cars moving back across the short span. Most of that time would be spent on environmental studies.

Horace Marshall lives right next to the bridge. He's watched workers come to the washout for two months now, and is frustrated with the lack of progress.

"Well, (there) ain't that much involved with fixing the bridge," said Marshall.

State environmental policy doesn't allow bridge construction until engineers prove they're not destroying a habitat. In this case, it's primarily the habitat of the endangered mussel. So, instead of building a bridge, the workers have been conducting environmental studies.

"Mussels clean our water just like oysters do," said Rep. Lucy Allen, D-Franklin. "They are the filter for the water that keeps it pure, that keeps it good. The presence of that mussel indicates the clarity and the purity of the water source."

Allen said she understands the frustration of dozens of people who have complained about the study that has delayed the bridge construction. But she said that making sure the repairs don't wipe out the mussel is too important to take a back seat to convenience.

Those delays could hit any driver if a bridge needs to be built nearby.

"It's the way it will be, and we need to prepare for things like this across North Carolina," said Allen.

Allen said studies so far indicate the bridge won't impact a dwarf wedge mussel habitat. That means the bridge probably can be finished by spring of 2007.


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