GRAND RAPIDS, Ohio - After fierce debate over the location of the new U.S. 24 from Waterville to Napoleon, it could be bald eagles who ultimately determine the path.
The state is moving the proposed route of the highway north to avoid two bald eagles' nests, and wildlife officials are flying over the area to identify any more areas that might be appealing to the birds.
Federal law prohibits disturbing areas within a quarter mile of a bald eagle nest, while the preferred buffer is a half mile.
State wildlife officials recently started studying the proposed highway route to determine what wood lots could become possible sites for eagle nests in the future, according to Mark Shieldcastle, a biologist at the state's Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station in Ottawa County.
Mr. Shieldcastle said wildlife officials flew the entire stretch of the route during the summer. They plan to return again in December when the leaves have fallen, making it easier to see which trees have multiple upper limbs that might be enticing to the endangered bird.
The results will be shared with the Ohio Department of Transportation, which is trying to build an alternative to the two-lane U.S. 24. ODOT doesn't expect construction before 2008 at the earliest, leaving plenty of time for bald eagles to find new nests along the proposed path. And predicting nesting areas is not an exact science.
“It will give them an idea,” Mr. Shieldcastle said yesterday, “but the birds could surprise us.”
The presence of bald eagle nests has caused ODOT officials to alter their proposed U.S. 24 expressway in southern Lucas County, said Mike Ligibel, planning administrator at the ODOT district office in Bowling Green.
Those changes, along with several other refinements to the proposed four-lane, 21-mile U.S. 24 in southern Lucas and eastern Henry counties, will be announced at a public meeting tomorrow night. It is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. at Otsego Middle School on Second Street in Grand Rapids.
Mr. Ligibel said ODOT plans to move the proposed alignment a half-mile north in the vicinity of State Rt. 295 in southern Providence Township. That move was necessary, he said, to avoid two bald eagle nests - one that's active, and one that's not.
Other proposed changes include a slight rerouting near the Fallen Timbers Golf Course to have less impact on course holes, and changes just west of State Rt. 109, south of Liberty Center, to decrease the number of diagonal farm splits.
With the refinements to the U.S. 24 proposal, first announced in March, Mr. Ligibel said six fewer farms and four fewer homes will be affected. He said the state also will reduce the number of diagonal farm splits from 82 to 46.
But the amount of farm acreage eyed for the proposed alignment will increase by 16 acres from 776 acres to 792 acres, he said.