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Eagle nest complicates highway project

August 14, 2012
By MARK LAW - Special to the Journal , Morning Journal News

BRILLIANT - A bald eagle's nest above state Route 7 may complicate the Ohio Department of Transportation's plan to cut back the hillside north of Brilliant to prevent rocks from falling onto the highway.

James White Construction Co. of Weirton is nearing completion of a $2 million stone-filled wall that will protect drivers while the project is designed and environmental reviews are conducted.

James Graham, ODOT District 11 construction area engineer, said it could be two to three years before the project is advertised for bids and another year after that for construction to proceed.

The road will remain one lane in each direction until the work is completed.

The 3,800-foot-long wall is 12 feet high and 10 feet thick. Graham said it is filled with sandstone that is removed from the hillside and crushed. Slag also is being added. Metal bands placed at regular intervals tie the sides of the wall together.

"This is the ultimate in rock-fall protection," Graham said.

Workers noticed an eagle's nest at the top of the hill in a large tree. Three eagles, including two mature birds with white heads and tail feathers, have been seen soaring over the area. One of the eagles isn't mature and has brown feathers. The plumage of the eagle changes to the recognizable white head and white tail feathers around age 5.

Graham said the eagles have become "co-workers," checking out the worksite for anything new. He said workers put a U.S. flag on a piece of equipment for the Fourth of July and the eagles were seen inspecting the flag.

"They are almost like family to us," Graham said.

Eagles are found near large bodies of water and generally eat fish.

Graham said the eagles are routinely seen flying back from the Ohio River with a fish in their talons. There were two eaglets in the nest throughout the early summer. Workers have found catfish bones along the two ledges that have been cut into the hillside.

Graham said he believes the eagles stole the nest from a hawk.

How the nest will affect the construction project hasn't been determined.

"Never in the history of the Ohio Department of Transportation have we taken down an eagle's nest,"? Graham said.

He said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service isn't sure how the matter will be handled.

ODOT had to obtain a disturbance permit from the fish and wildlife service to get within 660 feet of the eagle's nest. Workers weren't allowed into that zone until the permit was issued, Graham said.

Graham said the matter will be resolved once the project gets to the environmental review stage.

Graham said the project will be designed next year. ODOT did core samples on the hillside, drilling down 300 feet to determine the rock composition. The environmental review process could take another year. Graham said rights of way and property purchase could take another year. ODOT will then sell the project and construction will begin. Removing the hillside could take another year after that. Graham said ODOT will then have to wait for warmer weather to pave the highway before all four lanes are reopened for traffic.

Graham said there have been problems for years with rocks falling off the hillside along state Route 7 north of Brilliant.

"Then something happened with the age of the hillside and it started pitching rocks all the time," he said.

The bald eagle was officially removed from the federal government's list of endangered species in July 1995 by the Fish and Wildlife Service, when it was reclassified from endangered to threatened. The bald eagle was removed from the list of threatened wildlife in 2007, and assigned a risk level of least concern.

Based on the most recent population figures, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are at least 9,789 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous United States.

Although the bald eagle has been removed from the list of threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, the bird is still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Both laws prohibit killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests or eggs, the agency reported.

Another raptor has called the Brilliant area home for years. There has been an osprey nest at the Cardinal Plant. The osprey also hunts for fish from the Ohio River.

Another ODOT hillside project 5 miles south of Brilliant along state Route 7 will see a similar wall constructed.

The Rush Run project was recently sold by ODOT at a cost of $21.9 million. Beaver Excavating of Canton was awarded the project.

Graham said the wall at the Rush Run site will be 2,800 feet long. About 2 million cubic yards of dirt and rocks will be removed. A preconstruction meeting will be held in a couple weeks to determine a start date. Work is expected to be mostly completed in the fall of 2013.

The size of the Rush Run project is twice as big as the recently completed Wellsville hillside job,

As part of the project, 46 million gallons of water, or the amount of water contained in 70 Olympic-size swimming pools, will be drained from an underground mine. ODOT will use a bed of limestone to treat the water before it is drained into the river.



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