The recent letter, "Connector opponents stalled road days before set to start," by James Morgan, was inaccurate and failed to acknowledge several negative environmental impacts of the proposed US 411 Connector. Moreover, it's apparent that Morgan condones wasting taxpayers' money (nearly $100 million) on a road that will require a dangerous, costly interchange at State Route 20, destroy a mountain, and bisect a significant wildlife refuge and one of the state's oldest, historic manganese mines (dating to 1867).
As an aquatic biologist that has personally studied GDOT's preferred Route D-VE, I can assure Morgan and readers the Cherokee darter is present (not "presumed to be") and could be eliminated from the Pettit and Nancy Creek watersheds due to this road project. It should also be noted the Cherokee darter is found nowhere else in the world but in the Etowah River Basin. Additionally, the darter is classified by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened species and is protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
The purpose of the act is "to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species depend may be conserved." Unfortunately in Bartow County, preserving sensitive ecosystems is sometimes an afterthought -- and would apparently remain so, if it was up to Morgan.
The region within the Pettit and Nancy Creek watersheds has encountered tremendous growth and development in the past 15 years. In Bartow County from 1991 to 2005, impervious surface area (i.e. roads, parking lots, rooftops, etc.) increased by 5,455 acres, while tree canopy decreased by 9,855 acres. Based upon GDOT's own studies (along with reports published by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Georgia and the Etowah Habitat Conservation Program), land use change that results in increased impervious surface areas is the single greatest threat to the Cherokee darter.
Even more troubling is that Route D-VE will produce the greatest cumulative stream, wetland and floodplain impacts of all the routes studied for the connector. Route G, a shorter, cheaper alternative that once served as GDOT's preferred road, is much less environmentally invasive.
Also, when Morgan attempted to position Coalition for the Right Road as the only group concerned about the Cherokee darter, he failed to mention that the US Environmental Protection Agency and US Fish and Wildlife Service have also expressed grave concern for several years about this route's negative impact on the fish. And just recently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service expressed additional concerns to GDOT that acidic soils from an enormous cut into Dobbins Mountain -- necessary only for Route D-VE -- would further imperil the Cherokee darter. The agency is also requiring GDOT to study 1,010 feet of linear streams, which was forgotten in its environmental work.
Significant Wildlife Refuge
In Morgan's letter, he hints at a political conspiracy regarding the significant wildlife refuge that was designated by the City of Euharlee. Yet, this refuge actually falls within Bartow County's own land use assessment. According to the Bartow County Community Assessment (which was developed in 2005 by Bartow County and its municipal governments), the comprehensive plan was designed to address future land use planning and smart-growth strategies. In that study, the county and its cities identified the following points (which are applicable to the refuge):
* "New development is locating in areas that should not be developed -- such as farmland or environmentally sensitive areas."
* "The county should be sensitive to natural and historic resources when planning future growth."
* "The county must protect water resources from external threats to their use and quality."
* "The county must establish a comprehensive plan for allocating a minimum of 20 percent of land to green space."
The designation of this refuge obviously indicates that Euharlee -- through the acquisition of the wildlife refuge near Dobbins Mountain -- is serious about satisfying the city's pledge to help protect the natural and cultural resources of Bartow County. Its strategic location ensures the preservation of two headwater tributaries to Pettit Creek, cultural resources associated with the Dobbins Mountain Historic Mining District, and a mature hardwood forest which provides habitat for migratory birds, numerous terrestrial animals and aquatic species.
In fact, GDOT's own US 411 Connector Environmental Impact Statement predicts that in the absence of the wildlife refuge, the Dobbins Mountain area would be converted from undeveloped areas to residential use, which further diminishes the county's green space and contradicts the county's own community assessment plan.
The bottom line is, Route D-VE is an inexcusable waste of taxpayer money that will undoubtedly harm the county's fragile ecosystems, specifically the Cherokee darter and wildlife refuge. And for what? So Rome, parts of Floyd County, surrounding cities and Mr. Morgan can get to I-75 a measly 24 seconds faster. This is hardly a deal for taxpayers and the environment.
Staff Scientist II
Nutter & Associates, Inc.