In the 1970s, a tiny fish known
as the snail darter made headlines when it delayed construction of a dam in Tennessee because the project threatened the habitat of the endangered species.
It looks like the city of Kent has its own snail darter situation, one that will be adding several months -- and presumably additional costs -- to the replacement of the Harvey Redmond Bridge, which connects the Kramer Ball Fields to Fred Fuller Park.
The 64-year-old wooden bridge is in need of replacement because its structural supports have deteriorated beyond repair. It has been closed since April 2011 because of concerns that floating debris in the river could strike one of the bridge supports and cause the span to collapse.
Plans called for construction of a new bridge in the summer of 2014 -- three years after its closing. Now it appears that construction will be delayed to November or December 2014 because of the discovery of freshwater mussels, an endangered species, within 50 feet of the bridge.
The city cannot begin construction or demolition of the bridge during the mussels' breeding season, and must protect them during construction of the new bridge. The city must hire a malacologist, an expert in mollusks, to relocate the mussels before work begins.
The bridge project will cost $1.16 million, with the federal government picking up $968,000 of the tab. The tradeoff, of course, is that the city must follow additional federal guidelines, which may make the project more expensive than if the city had undertaken it on its own terms.
Councilman Garret Ferrara questioned the cost of the project when city officials explained the delay during a recent Kent City Council meeting. "How's a bridge cost a million dollars to go across to Fred Fuller Park?" he asked.
That's a good question, especially since the bridge underwent major repairs in the mid-1990s. Evidently the answer lies in relying on federal funding for the project, and having Kent's own version of the snail darter complicating what ought to be a relatively simple project.
In the meantime, because the ballfields are inaccessible, the summer baseball games that have been played at Kramer Fields for decades have had to be relocated -- and evidently will have to be played elsewhere for the next two summers. And, if work on the new bridge won't be able to start until the onset of winter 2014, maybe a prayer to the gods of global warming also will be in order.