Endangered bat may endanger Ste. Genevieve County plant

Monday, September 10, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- A plan to build one of the world's largest cement plants in Ste. Genevieve County has come up against a tiny adversary that environmentalists hope will sink the $600 million project.

Federal and company officials have revealed that biologists have found roosting sites of the minuscule Indiana bat -- a federally endangered species weighing just a fifth of an ounce -- on the property along the Mississippi River, about 60 miles south of St. Louis.

"Any time we see an endangered species out there, everybody's antennas go up," said Charles Camillo, an Army Corps of Engineers spokesman. "What it signals is, you need to move ahead with extreme caution. It doesn't kill a project, but there are a number of issues we'll need to look into."

As the Army Corps conducts an environmental study of the Holnam Inc. Lee Island project, the bat adds a new wrinkle dimension to the site where the company hopes to produce 4.4 million tons of portland cement a year.

Environmentalists call the bat more evidence the project they consider harmful must be stopped.

"This is not an appropriate site for a 2,000-acre strip mine and the world's largest cement plant," said Ted Heisel, law and policy coordinator for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

Nests in buffer zone

But Holnam officials said the roosting sites all were found in a buffer zone that would not be part of its quarry, and they repeated their pledge to meet or exceed government environmental standards.

The 3,900-acre project site would have a 2,200-acre buffer zone, said Mike Mullin, Holnam's chief of governmental affairs and communications for the project. The remaining 1,700 acres would make up the quarry, but only 200 acres of that would be quarried at any one time over the decades of the project's life, he said.

The company has applied for several state and federal permits, including those to discharge pollutants and build a harbor for barges. The first milestone along the way is the Corps' study, which officials said recently will take several more months than first planned.

The Indiana bat already has halted at least one logging operation in the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois.

And Indiana bats found in Onondaga Cave in the Missouri Ozarks helped defeat the Corps' Meramec Dam project in the early 1980s.

Holnam-hired biologists found the bats during a survey conducted from May through last month, and Mullin said the company was not surprised by the finding that the bats appear to be roosting in a few Lee Island sites and the vicinity.

When fully extended, Indiana bats are about three inches long with a 10-inch wingspan. But at rest they can be concealed in a human hand.

They live in caves south of the Missouri River over the winter. In spring they migrate north, to northern Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and even Michigan, said Lynn Robbins, a professor of biology and bat specialist with Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield.

"The populations in those caves have gone down about 80 percent in the past 15 years, so there's major concern about what's going on," Robbins said.

Camillo said the Corps will consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about how to handle the new information about the bats.

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