Endangered salamander lawsuit could delay MoPac project

Mopac Expressway at Slaughter Lane (KXAN Photo)
Mopac Expressway at Slaughter Lane (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new lawsuit over Austin’s endangered species could add even more delays to the MoPac project in Southwest Austin.

Environmentalists with Save Our Springs Alliance claim the Texas Department of Transportation missed an important step to protect the Barton Springs Salamander, the Austin Blind Salamander and the Golden Cheeked Warbler.

All three are endangered and unique to Central Texas.

“The decline in salamander populations is directly linked to the growth of Central Texas and communities in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone,” said Kelly Davis, Staff Attorney with SOS Alliance.

Davis worries the dwindling populations are about to take another hit.

“We need a balance,” said Davis, “We don’t need to add six lanes to the center of Mopac and dig down 23 feet into the [Edwards] aquifer.”

Before TxDOT adds the extra lanes between Slaughter and La Crosse, SOS says the law requires the state agency to consult with federal wildlife experts.

SOS claims TxDOT never did, so they sent the agency a letter letting them know they were taking legal action.

TxDOT provided a letter to KXAN dated June 17 they sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlining research they have done on the endangered species and their habitat that says, “we have determined the project will have no effect on endangered species.”

The agency also requests a consultation asking the USFWS to agree with their findings.

Four days later, TxDOT sent a letter to the Save our Springs Executive Director that states,  “their arguments…are rendered moot by TxDOT’s ongoing efforts to consult with the federal wildlife service.”

SOS said construction on the section of MoPac in question is supposed to start Dec. 1, 2016.

We reached out to TxDOT for comment, and to check on potential delays this could add the project. A spokesperson said they do not comment on pending litigation.

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