Jobs vs. Mussels on the Allegheny

Conservationists faced off against one of the region's oldest industries Monday night in Kittanning over rare mussels in the Allegheny River. The Allegheny Front's Deborah Weisberg filed this report.

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OPEN: Conservationists faced off against one of the region's oldest industries Monday night in Kittanning over rare mussels in the Allegheny River. The Allegheny Front's Deborah Weisberg filed this report.

D. Weisberg: The Kittanning Township Fire Hall filled up quickly Monday night for a public meeting about rare mussels. Most of those present work for the dredging industry, which extracts gravel from the bottom of the river to sell to PennDOT for road construction. They came to hear about a Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission proposal to list five species of mussels as threatened or endangered. Since mussels live in the riverbed, that would limit the areas where dredgers could work. In today's crashing economy, many, like Matt Patton, worry about their livelihood.

M. Patton: I don't put wildlife ahead of personal welfare. I believe a job comes first.

Weisberg: Elected officials like state Senator Don White of Indiana County expressed the same concerns.

Sen. White: I represent an area that never fully recovered from the last serious recession we had and these are critical jobs. I'm not an expert on the echo-system nor do I know much about the aggregate business, all I'm looking at is the jobs.

Weisberg: White has introduced legislation that would take away the commission's authority to list threatened and endangered aquatic species like fish, reptiles, amphibians and mussels. His bills would force the commission to submit proposals to legislative review. For all of its hundred-year history, the commission has provided the science regarding all of Pennsylvania's aquatic species in Pennsylvania and determines which ones need special protection. The agency's executive director Doug Austen explains why the snuffbox, salamander, rabbitsfoot, sheepnose and rayed bean mussels are proposed for listing now.

Dr. Austen: Why save these species is really an argument about how we value the environmentÇ the quality of the environment. What we've done to these rivers over the centuries has been to pollute them to a point where nothing will live. Now we're seeing a resurgence of them and this is part of protecting that resurgence.

Weisberg: Austen also says listing the mussels won't put an end to dredging

Austen: There's lots of places in the river that still would be open for dredging. There's no question about that. So this isn't an issue of whether or not there will be dredging or not, it's simply an issue of how much. The fairly limited amount of area that would be protected won't have much impact on overall dredging activity.

Weisberg: Mark Snyder owns Glacial Sand and Gravel Co. of Kittanning. He says the commission's science is flawed and the agency is acting too quickly to list the five species of mussels.

M. Snyder: I would like to see no action being taken on the listing. The methodologies for listing and number counting and habitats need to be examined more.
It's not just science versus jobsÇ it's comprehensive science or exact science versus jobs.

Weisberg: More than three hours of testimony were presented last night, for and against listing the mussels. The commission's board of directors will meet in April to again discuss the mussel proposal. Their decision will affect the next round of dredging permits in a few years. For the Allegheny Front, I'm Deborah Weisberg