Nesting birds delay painting on 14 Southeast Missouri bridges

Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Swallows nest under the Interstate 55 northbound bridge near the Dutchtown exit Monday. Painting of the bridge will begin around August due to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which prevents the disturbance of the nests until the offspring have left. (Laura Simon)

EDITOR'S NOTE: The name of the birds has been changed to cliff swallows after confirmation from a conservationist.

Fourteen Southeast Missouri highway bridges chosen in May to be painted as part of their ongoing maintenance programs will have to wait until at least August before they get face-lifts.

The delay stems from small intruders, cliff swallows that nest under the structures.

"Essentially, they are federally protected," said Missouri Department of Conservation spokesman Joe Jerek. "You cannot remove nests once the swallows have laid eggs until after the chicks are raised and gone -- until after the chicks fledge and leave the nest."

That's because of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, an agreement between the United States and Great Britain (acting for Canada) for the protection of migratory birds. Later amendments implemented treaties between the United States and Mexico, Japan and the Soviet Union.

Swallows nest under an Interstate 55 bridge near the Dutchtown exit Monday.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission awarded a $299,000 contract to Thomas Industrial Coatings Inc. of Pevely, Mo., on May 2 for bridge painting. The bridges to be painted consist of one in Butler County, one in Cape Girardeau County, one in Douglas County, two in Iron County and nine in New Madrid County.

The bridge in Cape Girardeau County is the Interstate 55 bridge for northbound traffic that passes over railroad tracks near Highway 74.

The paint is intended to prolong the life of the bridges and to encapsulate lead-based paint, MoDOT resident engineer Brian Holt said. Bidding for the project was competitive, he said. This is the first time MoDOT's Southeast Region has done multiple bridges under one contract, he said.

"MoDOT is supplying the paint. We're using up some supplies that we have before the shelf life expires," Holt said.

The bridges range in sizes and shapes, he said. Many were built in the 1960s.

"They've been doing painting contracts similar to this for about two years now. There haven't been a lot of them by any means," said Dane McGraw, spokesman for Thomas Industrial Coatings. "Putting bridges into packages like this, on MoDOT's end they have to be saving money for all the administrative [costs]. For us, it's a savings, because we're able to share [equipment] rental costs. In a smaller period of time, you can get a number of bridges out faster. We're going to have a full month's rental cost for each bridge, or two bridges sharing rental cost."

McGraw said Thomas Industrial Coatings anticipated the delay in painting the bridges.

"We are probably looking at starting in August this year," McGraw said. "There's a migratory bird provision that prevents any work being done between April 1 and July 31."

Cliff swallows "like those overhangs of the bridges. Sometimes they have their nests built from one end to the other. They build their nests almost out of mud, almost like a mud dauber. We play it safe and don't want to mess with them."

The swallows' nests line the beams under the interstate, stretching almost from one end to the other. Residue on the bottom side of the bridge indicates where other nests have at one time been affixed but fallen.

Dozens, maybe hundreds of the swallows dart in and out from under the bridge.

"Being protected species makes their nests protected," Jerek said. But he suggested people take the time to watch the birds wherever they are. "They are beautiful and kind of comical and quite the aerial acrobats," he said.

McGraw said that when the company does begin its projects, workers will tent the bridges to stop paint from being released into the environment. The tents are also intended to protect vehicle traffic.

"You don't want to cause any liability issues there," he said.


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