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President & CEO

Ken Phillips
4116 Cumberland Falls Hwy
Corbin, KY 40701


The Native Community
(Current Events & Interest)

Eastern bridge builders must
keep eye out for eagles

Permit gives agency waiver on eggs, eaglets

(Written by James Bruggers /Courier-Journal)

Eagles in the bridge path: Jim Bruggers on his story about two eagles who find themselves in the path of a bridge. With a fish in its talons an eagle flies to its nest where its mate sits on their eggs. The nest is near where the east end bridge might be built. The permit does not allow for killing or injuring any eagles, except for the loss of eggs or young due to nest abandonment.

No use or placement of heavy equipment, mowing or foot traffic, within 50 feet of the nest tree. No construction activities within 330 feet. Noise abatement program within 660 feet, including use of sound barriers. No tree cutting within 660 feet, except within construction zone. Save tallest trees.

During nesting season, crews must modify construction activities if they are causing disturbances. The eggs and any baby eagles apparently are expendable. 

Eastern Ohio River bridge crews cannot, however, do anything that might kill the parents of a nesting pair of bald eagles with a front-row perch to the construction. With pre-construction activities getting under way on a new Ohio River bridge, federal officials have issued a “takings permit” that shields the Indiana Department of Transportation from penalties if its construction activities cause a pair of eagles to abandon any eggs or young that might be in their eastern Louisville nest. But the permit also details five pages of mandatory conditions aimed at reducing noise and other activities within 660 feet of the nest, including limits on tree removal, no excessive or sudden loud noises, traffic abatement and a requirement to shield any bridge lighting from directly shining on the nest.

Authorities have imposed a ban on slamming pickup truck tailgates, loud radios, shouting and singing, and any new power lines nearby will have to be designed to reduce the odds of electrocution, according to the permit.

Federal biologists believe the bridge construction precautions will prevent the eagles from abandoning their nest and, as a result, will protect any eggs or young, said Tom MacKenzie, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The idea is to get the job done and still protect the eagles,” MacKenzie said.

Fines for killing eagles without a permit can include penalties of up to $250,000 and jail time. But some bridge critics object to the permit. 

“The fact that the project leaders would even consider allowing the taking of these really rare birds is really distressing,” said Meme Sweets Runyon, executive director of River Fields Inc., a land trust and conservation group.

The eagles have used the nest for three years and have successfully fledged baby eagles in each of the past two years, she said. This past year, they stayed in the area beyond nesting season, she said, adding, “We will continue to monitor this.”

The nest is high in a backyard tree on private property, in an area near the Ohio River in northeast Louisville. It became public knowledge last year, when state and federal officials confirmed they were working on a plan to safeguard the eagles and their nest during bridge construction.

Final design plans for the Kentucky approach to the eastern bridge have not yet been approved, but preliminary estimates shows part of one bridge support or pier within the 660-foot area surrounding the eagle nest, said Will Wingfield, Indiana Transportation Department spokesman.

The Indiana agency is overseeing construction of the eastern bridge, while Kentucky will build a downtown bridge that’s part of the Ohio River Bridges Project. The goal is to “minimizes the impact” on the environment, including the nesting eagles, so that no eggs or eagles are harmed, Wingfield said. “We are going to work within the guidelines of the permit.”

He said tree clearing for the project is to begin this month but that none will occur near the nest until August, before nesting season begins. Tree cutting cannot occur inside the 660-foot area, except for within the actual construction zone, according to the permit. The largest native pines and hardwoods are supposed to be preserved as potential roost or nest sites.

There’s even a requirement that Indiana transportation officials make sure any road-kill along the new bridge approach is quickly scooped up and hauled away through at least 2017, when the permit expires.

“One of the greatest threats to eagles is road collisions,” said Ulgonda Kirkpatrick, an eagle specialist with Fish and Wildlife Service in Atlanta.

Eagles eating animals killed by cars and trucks can themselves get struck by motor vehicles, she said. The eagles are thought to be the second active breeding pair ever recorded in Louisville and the fourth in the greater Louisville area near the Ohio River.

The Ohio River has become something of a bald eagle corridor as the species has bounced back from being on the government’s endangered species list. There are an estimated 16 nesting pairs along the river in Kentucky and Indiana.

Biologists have said bald eagles are sensitive to noise, but they’ve also noted that nesting eagles on Shippingport Island have reproduced, despite Thunder Over Louisville, the air show and fireworks that are part of the Kentucky Derby Festival.

Kentucky state biologists will continue to monitor the eagles, said Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources spokesman Mark Marraccini. He declined to comment on whether the department agreed with terms of the permit, referring questions to the federal agency.

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