Proposed Katy bridge could threaten nearby endangered animals

A planned Katy bridge project could threaten the endangered species that live nearby, but steps are already being taken to keep the imperiled animals safe.

City council unanimously approved a nearly $8,000 environmental contract Monday to assess the impact a bridge replacement project could have on local wildlife. The project consists of replacing the Tenth Street bridge at Cane Island Branch and adding a detention basin to mitigate flooding in the area.

Nearly 60 threatened or endangered species live in Katy, according to TPWDand many may reside in the wetlands near the intersection of Pitts Road and Morton Road, where the 15-acre basin would be built.

Animals like the Texas horned lizard, Louisiana black bear and even bald eagles are indigenous to Katy and classified as threatened or endangered, TPWD data shows

To ensure none of these species will be jeopardized by the project, city council has hired Cypress Environmental Consulting LLC to determine the environmental impact to the area.

Cypress Environmental Consulting is a small, woman-owned business that specializes with environmental services like planning, permitting and monitoring.

In essence, biologists, scientists, anthropologists, geologists and wetland specialists will evaluate the area for protected species and then report their findings so that engineers with the city and construction companies can plan accordingly, explained Melissa Fontenot, president of Cypress Environmental Consulting.

“If a design can be adjusted in a way to minimize impacts to wetlands or to avoid known cultural resources sites, that’s always an important step in the design of the project,” she said.

If there are unavoidable impacts, the city will have to appeal to state or federal environmental entities, depending on whether the species is protected under state or federal guidelines.

In this case, since there’s already an existing bridge in place, it’s unlikely that local wildlife will be adversely affected by the repairs. Still, she noted, there’s a chance that the construction itself will disrupt a delicate ecosystem.

“In Harris County, there are certain freshwater mussel species that could be present in perennial or intermittent stream systems,” Fontenot explained. “So we look actually within the stream itself as well to see if there are any freshwater mussels that occur in that particular location that construction could harm.

Fontenot noted that her firm assesses more than just environmental data. Consultants also heavily weigh public input on the project

Because of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970any public infrastructure improvements funded by federal money must be subject to public engagement, she said.

By law, residents with an opinion on the project can speak up and express their opinions at public meetings, and that feedback will be included in the environmental report.

“With any city project, the city must hear input from stakeholders, or residents in this case,” Fontenot said. “So if you have any opinions on these wetlands, these species or this project, speak up in city council meetings. We’ll include what you have to say in our report.”

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