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Connecticut Rail Plan May Threaten Endangered Species

Atlantic sturgeon travel 140 miles up the Connecticut River to spawn. (NASA Earth Observatory)
Atlantic sturgeon travel 140 miles up the Connecticut River to spawn. (NASA Earth Observatory)
February 21, 2017

OLD LYME, Conn. – Environmental advocates are concerned that a proposed railroad tunnel could threaten endangered species in Connecticut. The original plan for the Northeast Corridor rail project called for a bridge over the Connecticut River.

But, in the year between the release of the draft environmental review and the final review last December, the plan was revised to include a tunnel under the river.

Claudia Weicker is board chair for the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center, a regional center of the Connecticut Audubon Society. She believes that violates the Federal Railroad Administration's own rules of procedure.

"They should have issued an amended draft Environmental Impact Statement with the tunnel so that it could have been subject to public hearing, public review, public comment," she said.

In a letter to the FRA, the Audubon Society notes that the Connecticut River Estuary is a biologically-diverse environment, home to at least four species listed as endangered or threatened.

Among them is the Atlantic sturgeon which, until a few years ago, was thought to be extinct. But Weicker says the environmental study relied on information from before 2012.

"And it was really from 2012 to 2016 that enough sturgeon were found in the river that made it considered significant," she added.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has designated the Lower Connecticut River a "critical habitat" for Atlantic sturgeon.

The sturgeon, which spend most of their lives in the Atlantic, return to the river of their birth to spawn 140 miles upstream. And Weicker adds there may be other impacts of tunneling under the river.

"It's a significant river, which provides nutrients supporting hundreds of species and 70 percent of the fresh water in Long Island Sound," she explained. "Disturb that and we don't know what happens."

The Audubon Society has asked the FRA to meet with local communities and organizations and to revise its final environmental review.

Andrea Sears/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - CT