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Bats could impede Mt. Juliet road project

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An endangered species of bat could slow progress on the Eastern Connector road project in Mt. Juliet.

The endangered species is the Indiana Bat that likes to nest in the Shagbark Hickory, a tree that grows in the five-acre area that needs to be cleared for the three-mile road project. This final phase of the Eastern Connector will run from Eastgate Boulevard to Beckwith Road, according to Mt. Juliet Deputy Public Works Director Andy Barlow. When complete, the connector will run from Interstate 40 to Lebanon Road.

It was when the city went through the normal process of environmental clearances the United States Fish and Wildlife Agency realized the Shagbark Hickory populated the road project area.

"They identified we do have a potential habitat for the Indiana Bat," Barlow said.

While no bats have been witnessed in the area, there is a potential habitat. However, under the Endangered Species Act, Mt. Juliet can obtain a permit that allows limited take of threatened or endangered animals' habitat, provided an approved habitat conservation plan is in place.

The USFWA told city officials under the permitting process the area could be cleared in specific times, even during the set restriction between April and October.

"We plan to satisfy the agency's request and permitting fees," Barlow said. "They serve to protect the potential bat population and we want to cooperate."

By law, the city cannot touch the potential habitat in June or July, and this could impede the project a bit, Barlow said.

"The ones we are concerned with can be cleared mostly before potential bats come in," said Barlow. "We don't want to disturb the bats after that."

The agreement for approval to clear during the other restricted times will be about $20,000 to $30,000, he said.

Barlow said there is no known number of Shagbark Hickories in the targeted clear area for the project. He said there could be one every 50 feet or every 30 feet.

"We don't really know, but we do know outside our clear zone there will still be a habitat," he said.

The Eastern Connector road project will be bid in April, and construction will begin immediately after. Barlow said they will structure the project around the June and July "no-clear" months the best they can, and this habitat issue will mostly impede the project, but not delay it significantly.

"We will start at the southern end of the project to avoid a severe delay," Barlow said.

The project will conclude late 2016.

Writer Laurie Everett may be contacted at laurieeverett1@gmail.com.

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