Environment

Complete 540 gets go-ahead from Fish and Wildlife despite likely death of some threatened mussels

Young Yellow Lance Mussels (Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service)

By their nature, mussels are the couch potatoes of bivalve world. Sedentary and sluggish, they muddle through life in silt sand, and are slow to elude danger. Among the predators imperiling the mussels in Swift and Middle creeks are humans. Humans that build houses and pave driveways and drive on new roads, like the 27-mile, six-lane Complete 540 tollway proposed for southern Wake County.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service last week determined that the toll road will not jeopardize the tenuous existence of two  mussels, whose habitat includes Swift and Middle creeks: the threatened Yellow Lance Mussel and the endangered Dwarf Wedgemussel. The $2.2 billion project would cross both creeks and route through their watersheds.

Although USFWS wrote that urbanization will continue in southern Wake County whether 540 is built or not, “any additional effects” on the mussels “are of concern … given the precarious state of the species in Swift Creek.”

The toll road is controversial not only because of its environmental impacts to rivers, streams and wetlands, which DOT will be required to mitigate — but the project is also displacing 200 households and several businesses.

To prevent their extinction and yet allow the road to be built, USFWS wrote in its Biological Opinion, the state transportation department must follow the proper protocols. These include building 50-foot riparian buffers, diverting hazardous waste away from the streams, keeping bridge posts out of the creeks, partially funding a breeding facility, and relocating survivors and their heirs to more amenable places in their natural habitats.

To encourage more mussels, USFWS also directed NC DOT to pay $2 million to upgrade an NC State University propagation facility at Yates Mill Park and to allocate another $3 million to the state Wildlife Resources Commission for a Non-Game Aquatic Project Fund.

These funds are supposed to help compensate for the human harm to the mussels. Pollution, excessive silt, riverbank changes and extreme weather — humans are directly responsible for all of these changes — jeopardize them. Since there are so few mussels, they are loners who live far from one another. If they were people, they would live way out in the country, with no immediate neighbors, and thus, would have little chance to meet someone and start a family.

Mussels also depend on host fish, including various darters, sculpins and shiners on which to lay their eggs. If these fish are crushed by construction equipment or harassed by excessive noise, as the USFWS document mentions, then the mussel eggs no longer have a free ride. But since fish swim faster than mussels (and who doesn’t), USFWS predicts they can escape the pile drivers and construction crews.

The Yellow Lance Mussel, just designated as a threatened species earlier this month, faces similar challenges to the Dwarf Wedgemussel. For one, like people, the Yellow Lance Mussel needs clean water. They seem to be faring better in the Tar River, where 45 to 53 of them recently have been spotted. But the Neuse River watershed, vulnerable to myriad insults — hog farms, urbanization, the likely construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — has proven more hostile. From 2014 – 2016, only one lone Yellow Lance Mussel was found there.

 

One Comment


  1. Ann O'Neal Rogerson

    April 22, 2018 at 7:34 am

    We keep disrupting our wildlife habitats and by doing so we are slowly bringing our world to its demise. How sad.

Check Also

What is your compost made of? Use public records to find out.

Read the two-part investigation about how a lack ...

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

WASHINGTON — Census data shapes almost every corner of public life — from the amount of federal mone [...]

Investigation shows that dangerous chemical was included in materials received by NC composting faci [...]

Republican teacher marches to a different drummer on matters of public education Angela Coffman is a [...]

On Wednesday afternoon students at UNC-Chapel Hill will leave their classes for a day of protest act [...]

Abortion is not a crime, yet the North Carolina General Assembly just came a step closer to making i [...]

Throughout his long and mostly uninspired political career, Richard Burr has filled the role of a cl [...]

The post Burr’s brief…and boxers appeared first on NC Policy Watch. [...]

North Carolina’s dubious ranking of having the 10th highest rate of uninsured people in the nation c [...]