December 1, 2021

County must relocate species before doing bridge work

Before work can begin to replace Lorings Crossing bridge in Cortlandville, a threatened species of freshwater mussels in the Tioughnioga River must be moved, but it won’t delay plans for the $4.5 million project.

“Each process takes some time,” said Cortland County Highway Superintendent Charlie Sudbrink. “We’re going to bid it (the bridge work) out in December or January.

However, relocating the mussels won’t delay the timeline to work on the bridge Sudbrink said, noting the county likes to go out to bid in December or January because companies are more competitive with pricing. The bridge work is expected to begin later in 2021, Sudbrink said.

The bridge, which crosses the Tioughnioga River, was red-flagged by the state for significant structural issues. The DOT last inspected the bridge, built in 1937, in August 2018, giving it a poor status mark.

The deterioration is mostly on the fascia — outside — of the bridge. Because of that, the county’s bridge consultant signed off on $65,450 to reopen it. The bridge is the only crossing between Interstate 81 and the East River crossing.

Sudbrink said it will take about six months to repair the bridge once construction begins. Most of the $4.5 million cost will be covered by state and federal funds.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation conducted a mussel survey in June and found Lasmingona subviridis, otherwise known as green floater, along with several other “critically imperiled and common freshwater mussel species,” said Lori Severino, a public information officer for the DEC.

“Green floater is a state-threatened species that is petitioned for federal listing and is known to occur in the Tioughnioga River,” she said. “There were no endangered species found at this site.”

Another threatened species, the Alasmidonta varicose or Brook Floater, can be found on the east branch of the river, said Paul H. Lord, a professor and researcher at SUNY Oneonta, who evaluates the viability of pearly mussel populations.

When it comes to mitigation, the agency can modify or redesign the project to avoid affecting the mussels. If the project can’t accommodate the shellfish, then the project coordinator must provide a written justification “and begin the regulatory process in order to obtain an Incidental Take Permit to relocate the mussels,” Severino said.

“In addition, state regulations require that the project sponsor develops a ‘net conservation benefit’ plan that identifies measures for enhancing the project site to a more suitable condition for the species than before the instream disturbance was conducted,” Severino said.

Once the permit is issued, a contracted mussel surveyor can create a relocation plan and then work with the DEC to find a good relocation site and begin the process of moving the mussels. Severino said the new site would preferably be located upstream from the project site “with equal or better habitat for the species.”

“Post-relocation monitoring would also be required within one month and one year from the date of relocation,” she said.

Sudbrink also said that the same mussel survey would need to be done before moving forward with the East River Crossing Bridge project in Homer, which is scheduled to take place in 2022.