Could a small fish impact construction of the Toyota Mazda site in Huntsville?

Could a small fish impact construction of the Toyota Mazda site in Huntsville?
(Source: WBRC)

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A tiny fish could have a big impact on the Toyota-Mazda plant planned for Huntsville. That plant could have a major economic impact around the state.

The Center for Biological Diversity says the small Spring Pygmy Sunfish is under imminent threat from the Toyota Mazda plant planned next to the home of the only native population of the species. The CBD is planning to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of it.

"We initially petitioned to get the spring pygmy sunfish listed as threatened and receive critical habitat at the same time. In fact, the service did propose critical habitat; however it never followed through and actually confirmed that habitat would be protected for the species," Elise Bennett with the Center for Biological Diversity said.

Bennett says the huge development will impact water quality and disrupt water flow to the springs and could wipe out the species.

"They like nice, clean clear water and development in the area has caused changes in flow and pollution in the places they like to live,"Bennett said.

The city of Huntsville begs to differ saying environmental homework on the site was done years ago and tells WBRC everything is in compliance with federal and state environmental standards. The city says Fish and Wildlife and other organizations signed off on it.

"The habitat for the species to thrive in is protected. It cannot be developed and development around that habitat area must be developed in best management practices standards. We got that in effect working jointly in partnership...being proactive about it back in 2012," Shane Davis, Director of Urban Development for the city of Huntsville said.

The city also sent us this statement as well about the environmental permitting process:

"The Huntsville Community has already entered into a "Protected Habitat Area" through joint efforts between the landowners (Sewell and McDonald); the US Fish & Wildlife Service; and Department of Interior. This effort was completed in June 2012 with the issuance of both (i) a Candidate Conversation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) and (ii) Enhancement of Survival Permit. The project site has the appropriate permits that allow for both the development of the project site, while also providing protection of the habitat. The CCAA and Permit requires non-disturbance of 150 feet around Moss Spring and no development to occur within the Swamp Area on the east side of Powell Road.

The "no development zone" is defined in the CCAA as the PROTECTED AREA and is limited to 150 acres. The current CCAA and Enhancement Survival Permit are transferrable under 50 CFR 13.24,13.25,17.22, and 17.32. The City of Huntsville is currently working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to transfer these assurances into the name of the City of Huntsville.  The City has numerous conversations with MTMUS about transferring these assurances to the Company upon our transfer of the project site. Everyone is in full compliance with our construction plans/activities as they related to the CCAA, Army Corp of Engineers, and US Fish & Wildlife."

Davis feels the wildlife organization is unaware of the agreements made with Fish and Wildlife. He doesn't believe this lawsuit is going to have an impact on the plant whatsoever.

Bennett says the center petitioned to protect the spring pygmy sunfish under the Endangered Species Act in 2009. In 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service protected the sunfish as a threatened species and proposed protections for eight stream miles and 1,617 acres of spring pool and spring-influenced critical habitat in Limestone County.

Bennett adds the agency was required to designate critical habitat at the same time it listed the species as threatened in October 2013. More than four years later, the service has not finalized its critical habitat proposal, leaving the sunfish's dwindling habitat at risk.  

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