Endangered Bat Could Delay Central Iowa Interstate Project

Associated Press

DES MOINES -- A small endangered bat could delay work on an Interstate 80 interchange that business and civic leaders hope will bring more businesses and jobs to Waukee and West Des Moines.

The lone female Indiana bat was found in late February just over a half mile from the $31 million proposed Interstate 80 interchange south of Waukee, the Des Moines Register reported Tuesday.

The bat is considered endangered by state and federal agencies. Now federal officials have asked for a study to determine whether the Indiana bat population would be harmed by the interchange construction.

The discovery won't kill plans for the interchange, but it comes as the cities were preparing to start working on a final design. Officials want to have the construction begin later this year.

"It's coming up at the last hour where this bat was found five-eighths of a mile from the site, and now all of the sudden they want to bring this site into the analysis," said West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer. "It seems to me that it's so far away, why bring this site into it, but they've got the ability to request that we do that."

Officials need to look at ways to avoid impacting the population, said Kraig McPeek, assistant supervisor of the Rock Island, Ill., field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The bat, which devours a large amount of nighttime insects, may fly up to three miles looking for food.

"We don't find (the bats) everywhere because there's not a lot of them out there," she said.

The new study, estimated to cost $30,000, will determine if the bats are roosting — hanging upside down to sleep or rest — in nearby trees. If so, officials will need to find a way to accommodate the bats.

That could mean cutting down the trees in the winter, when the creatures are hibernating in other areas. New trees could then be planted after construction. Gaer said the additional work could take an extra three to five months.

The latest study, likely to occur in mid-May, comes after a $250,000 study that did not find any other concerns, said West Des Moines City Manager Greg Sparks.

The newspaper reported that the new interchange, which was approved in early 2012, is expected to open hundreds of acres for development. It aims to boost business and ease traffic congestion in the area.
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