- Your News
By MARIAN GALBRAITH
The Coffee County Jail Review Committee continues to go “batty” over environmental restrictions imposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect an endangered species of bats in the process of building and financing the new jail on a 44-acre site on Hillsboro Highway.
The issue arose in conjunction with the committee’s hope to take advantage of lower interest rates offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development loan program, which could save approximately $2.2 million over the life of the loan compared to public financing, according to Mayor David Pennington and his advisors.
However, environmental restrictions apply whenever federal financing programs are used for construction projects, and this month is known to be the mating and birthing season for the endangered Indiana bat.
The committee reviewed an email from Steve Maloney of Griggs and Maloney, Inc., an environmental engineering and consulting firm in Murfreesboro, which the county has retained to determine its options regarding the bats.
Maloney said in the email he had identified roughly 65 trees lying in the construction zone with potential to be suitable habitat for the bats.
“The bats usually give birth in June and within 30 days the young are able to fly,” Maloney said. “If bats are present at the site, or assumed to be present, the USFWS will be reluctant to allow tree removal during this time period.”
The email went on to suggest three options for the county in dealing with the bat issue, one being an acoustical survey estimated at $7,500 to $10,000 to determine if bats are present, which Maloney said would consist of “setting out recorders at night to detect bat sounds.”
If bats were not present, Maloney said the county should be able to move forward with construction and remove the trees as planned, but the wording left commissioners confused as to how to move forward if bats are, indeed, detected by the survey.
“If bats are present, then things get complicated,” the email said.
“Here are the options as I see them: 1. USFWS allows tree removal (70 trees) by contributing to the Indiana Bat Conservation Fund – cost estimated at $25,000-$30,000. 2. USFWS allows acoustical study to determine if bats are present, if not present then remove trees—estimated cost $7,500-$10,000. 3. Acoustical survey indicates bats present and USFWS requires mist netting to collect bats—estimated cost $18,000 – $22,000.”
While some commissioners wanted to believe that the issue could be fully resolved by contributing $25,000 to the conservation fund, Commissioner Tim Morris said he was not sure it would be that simple.
“I think they charge you by the tree, and it’s based on diameter,” Morris said.
Pennington added his own understanding was that if the county wants USDA financing, they cannot begin construction, not even one shovel in the ground, until the issue is fully resolved.
Commissioner Rush Bricken suggested the committee meet with Maloney in person as soon as possible to get a more solid understanding of how to proceed, and even called Maloney on the spot with his cell phone to try and resolve the issue via speakerphone.
The call went to Maloney’s voice mail, but Pennington later stated that Maloney agreed to meet with officials at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, June 11, to clarify the county’s options.
The meeting will take place in Committee Room One of the Coffee County Plaza at 1329 MacArthur Drive in Manchester.