Dredging Showdown Over Rare Mussels

Big business has thrown a wrench in the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's plan to give more protection to rare mussels in the Allegheny River. A final decision hasn't been made yet but environmentalists and dredgers could be headed for a showdown. The Allegheny Front's Deborah Weisberg has the story.

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OPEN: Big business has thrown a wrench in the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's plan to give more protection to rare mussels in the Allegheny River. A final decision hasn't been made yet but environmentalists and dredgers could be headed for a showdown. The Allegheny Front's Deborah Weisberg has the story.

Weisberg: The fish commission was all set to give five species of rare mussels further protected status until companies that dredge the Allegheny River for sand and gravel for road construction protested the plan. State and federal permits require dredgers to survey the areas where they intend to work and to stop dredging where they find threatened or endangered species. When dredgers learned the commission planned to add new mussels to the list, they claimed it would result in job losses and hurt the region's economy. The commission agreed to postpone its plans and to hold a public hearing on the issue March 2. Doug Austen is the commission's executive director.

Austen: Although we feel our science is strong, the delay won't impact any species and won't put them at risk. This does give us time to address issues the dredgers brought up.

Weisberg: The species in question are snuff box, rabbitsfoot, salamander, rayed bean and sheepnose. Mussels are critical to a waterway because they filter pollution and encourage mayflies and other insects to colonize. Environmentalists and those who support the dredging industry are expected to testify at the March 2 hearing in Brackenridge. The commission will make a final decision on the mussels in April. Until then, the mussels have some protection as a candidate for listing and dredgers are off the river when it's frozen. For the Allegheny Front, I'm Deborah Weisberg