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Endangered bat holds up millions in road projects

by Ryan R?Rees
rrees@timescourier.com

The discovery of an endangered Indiana bat perched in a dead pine tree in the Rich Mountain Wildlife Management area in Gilmer County last summer has set off a major delay in road projects across north Georgia. 

While the discovery was a boon for environmentalists, it created an expensive delay in road construction projects that could amount to $459 million over the next year and a half. None of the projects are in Gilmer County, but having the bat found here has created a major headache for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The delays affect 182 projects in 30 counties. 

The tiny Indiana bat, weighing about three pennies, is threatened by a disease that could wipe out the species across its range from Iowa to New York State. 
The bat found here carried a tracking device the size of a toothpick and was traced here from a cave in Tennessee. It was the first sighting of an Indiana bat in Georgia since 1966. The bat was not captured but researchers found 13 other bats clustered on the same tree.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologist Trina Morris said the number of bats seen on Rich Mountain and the length of time the confirmed Indiana bat spent in the area means they are looking at a maternity colony of the endangered species.
The bats migrate during the summer, so tests have to be conducted in the summer months to try and trap and tag more of them across north Georgia. Re-searchers will use an acoustic device to find the bats and use mist nets to capture and put a tracker on them. Required by the federal government, each project area must be tested and will cost $80,000 to $120,000. In total, those studies could cost up to $8 million.
After the bat was discovered in Gilmer last summer, the GDOT scrambled to complete two bat studies on two projects – the Northwest Corridor toll lane along I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties and a project on Ga. 17 in Stephens County.
Design for projects can continue undeterred. But construction and land acquisition cannot proceed until workers have listened for the bats in the projected work areas.

If more bats are discovered, more delays and costly work may occur, as the state is required to take conservation measures to protect the habitat if the project will “harm, kill or harass” the bats, said DOT Chief Engineer Russell McMurry.
Fifty-eight of the state projects are nearing readiness but are on hold for now.
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