Monday, October 16, 2006

Wood Turtle Worries in the Green River Hastens Sewer Project

Photo by Gustav W. Verderber, 2005

By Bonnie Obremski, North Adams Transcript
Article 10/16/2006 03:08:26 AM EDT

WILLIAMSTOWN — Town officials are trying to cover up exposed sewer pipe in the Green River behind Elm Street, as required by the state Department of Environmental protection, but a small reptile on the state's threatened-species list has complicated repairs. Covering up the pipe may disturb wood turtles, according to Misty-Anne Marold, an endangered-species review biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who visited the site recently.
"We're having them do a time restriction," Marold said Friday of the workers who will rebuild a buffer of dirt and rock between the pipe and stream waters. "We didn't want them to work any time past the end of October." Any later than that, and the wood turtles will go into "over-wintering" mode and will not be able to survive anyone disturbing their habitat, she said. It just so happens the area where the pipe is exposed is a perfect winter sleeping spot.
"When bears hibernate, there is the classic image of a bear going into cave and not coming out until spring," Marold said. "Turtles do same thing. They like a slow-moving water area with enough water above them to create a thermally stable environment." That is the exact environment that has formed near the pipe. Marold said she determined this after plunging into the water last week and sifting around in the sand. "They don't know what's natural and what's unnatural," she said, referring to the turtles apparently taking a liking to the pipe.
But they are not sleeping yet so there is still time to work in the area, she said. If workers wait too long, they might have to remove the wintering turtles from the mud, which would jolt the creatures into life-threatening shock, Marold said.
She said the turtles would also be stressed if the sewer pipe should leak, which is what the town is trying to avoid. So, as Department of Public Works employees act quickly to cover the pipe, they will also perform routine sweeps of the area to chase away any turtles gravitating toward the sewer line.
The maintenance work will be an emergency repair, and the town will consult with environmental agencies to hash out a more permanent solution to the problem in the spring, Marold said.

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