Local News

Kentucky Conservation Committee To Hold Annual Meeting Saturday

The Kentucky Conservation Committee will host its annual meeting Saturday at the University of Louisville.  The meeting includes educational programs on conservation issues and a panel discussion with Kentucky lawmakers.

Committee President Vicki Holmburg says she hopes to reach out to anyone who loves the outdoors and wants to be part of sustainability efforts in Kentucky. “Ultimately, we hope to educate the public first of all,” she says “education is the primary focus of this meeting and to provide a forum for citizens to speak openly to legislators about their desires and concerns.”

The organization will also present a Person of the Year Award to outgoing Finance Cabinet Secretary Jonathan Miller. “He has worked quite a lot on weatherization” says Holmburg “and he has had a lot of input on other types of sustainability for the commonwealth and we believe that he has been a good role model and a progressive person in those regards.”

The event will also include a tour of U of L’s sustainability projects.

Local News

Harrods Creek Bridge Construction On Track

by Gabe Bullard

The rebuilding and widening of Harrods Creek Bridge in eastern Jefferson County is set to be completed in August.

In November 2008, the bridge was closed due to safety concerns. Since then, Metro Government’s plan to rebuild and widen the one-lane span has faced several delays. The conservation group River Fields sought to protect the bridge, and filed two lawsuits to that effect.

The group won an injunction last summer, but later lost a federal appeal and dropped both suits. Construction resumed in the fall, but was delayed once more by winter weather.

Mayor’s spokesperson Lindsay English says progress has been slow for the last few months, but will resume at full speed soon.

“By the middle of April, the crews will be bringing about nine 70-foot-long beams and the next step will be to add the decking panels on top,” she says. “So there’s going to be a lot of progress out there in the next month or so.”

The project’s budget is $2 million.

Local News

Harrods Creek Bridge Renovations Begin

Nearly eight months after the Harrods Creek Bridge was closed because of safety concerns, work has begun on widening the aging span.

The conservation group River Fields has filed two lawsuits to stop the construction work.   It says the historic one-lane structure is sound despite its age and needs only minor repairs.

Mayor’s spokesperson Kerri Richardson says unless a judge orders Metro Government to stop the project, construction will continue.

“The contract specifies that the bridge will be open by the end of the year,” she says. “There are incentives built into that contract that reward the contractor if they complete the bridge ahead of time, so we are confident that we are going to have a new Harrods Creek Bridge open for traffic by the close of 2009.”

The project is expected to cost two million dollars.

Local News

River Fields Files Second Lawsuit Over Harrods Creek Bridge

A second lawsuit has been filed by the River Fields conservation group over the closing of the Harrods Creek Bridge.

The group has already sued to stop the city from rebuilding and widening the one lane span. Now it has filed a second suit, claiming the Coast Guard did not properly review the city’s plans for the project.

The bridge was deemed unsafe by the state and closed last year. River Fields’ Attorney Don Cox says the group has done its own study on the bridge and says the construction project is unnecessary.

“Our engineer has indicated the bridge is as sound today as it was the day it was built. Some work needs to be done on the railings to bring them up to snuff and the bridge itself needs to be repaved,” he says.

The city has already awarded a $2.3 million contract to rebuild and widen the bridge. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office says the project will continue.

Local News

City Plans To Widen Harrods Creek Bridge

A single-lane bridge in eastern Jefferson County is set to be widened. But a legal dispute could stop the project.

The bridge over Harrods Creek on River Road has been closed since November. The city planned to add new guardrails to the project, but now officials have decided to go ahead with plans to rebuild and widen the bridge.

The project is slated to begin in March, even though the River Fields conservation group has filed a lawsuit to retain the century old bridge as a one-lane span.

Mayor’s office spokesperson Chris Poynter says the city doesn’t believe the lawsuit is valid. But if an injunction is issued, the bridge could re-open anyway.

“We do then have a plan to go to the state and put guardrails on the bridge so we can get it open temporarily until that matter is disputed,” he says. “But right now there is no injunction, it’s simply a lawsuit.”

Poynter says the project will cost about $2 million and will be paid for mostly with federal funds.

Attorney Don Cox, who represents River Fields, says he expects the federal lawsuit could
be decided before there’s a need for his client to seek an injunction.

Environment In-Depth News

Cave Ecosystems Improve; Groundwater Still Vulnerable

Tour guide Nancy Toney leads a group down into Horse Cave in the south-central town of Horse Cave, Kentucky. She points over a railing at one of the two rivers tumbling below.

“And this is the river that the sewage treatment plant was dumping the sewage into, through that sinkhole. So the water you see would have been black, those rocks would have been black, you would have been able to see clusters of blood worms hanging to all of the rocks,” Toney says.
Inside Horse Cave
Today the rivers run clear and clean. And the eyeless white crayfish that disappeared when pollution was killing the cave have made their way back. But it’s been a long haul.

Humans have been leaving their mark on caves for thousands of years. We’ve sheltered in them, told our stories on their walls. In the prohibition-era 1920s, locals even created an entire subterranean nightclub in one of Hidden Cave’s deep-set caverns—complete with orchestra and dance floor. But it wasn’t until recently that people understood that what goes into a cave can come out the other end—with consequences.

“They’re not just simply holes in the ground…”

This is David Foster. He’s head of the American cave conservation association, which is headquartered right above Hidden Cave.

“They’re holes that evolved because rain water was moving through sinkholes and dissolving them and widening them and opening them. And that rain water has to go somewhere. It doesn’t just seep into the ground and continue to the center of the earth. It comes back out in the form of springs.”

Foster says that if you contaminate a cave system, you contaminate the springs that emerge from the cave. And because those springs feed our rivers and streams, you’re ultimately contaminating the water we depend on for drinking. Beneath about 40% of Kentucky’s lands is a geological formation called karst. It’s basically limestone that water can easily dissolve—splitting open cracks, forming sinkholes, and eventually caves. Karst doesn’t remove impurities from the water. It lets it pass right through. So Foster says that when he arrived in Horse Cave 20 years ago, run off from homes and industry had taken their toll on the cave.

Walkway inside Horse Cave“What we had was an open sewer, right in the middle of town,” Foster says.

And the pollution was edging its way into the nearby and better known Mammoth Cave system. But money from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service helped build a regional sewer treatment system that went online in 1989. The cave got cleaner. But other groundwater contaminants were still causing problems.

“Whenever it would rain, we would smell a gasoline odor. And then we went through a period where the EPA had a program where they were removing all the underground storage tanks that had been leaking. And after that got done, we almost never had that problem,” said Foster.

After years of environmental clean up, the cave’s ecosystem has come back. But it will always be a delicate balance. With few species depending on each other in this rare, sun-less environment, it’s easy to tip the scales. Rick Toomey heads Mammoth Cave’s science and learning center. He says that for example aquatic cave animals rely on the organic material in water that backs up from the Green River or from groundwater that seeps into the cave.

“The cave fish, the cave shrimp, the cave crayfish, these organisms eat the organic material itself, or the organic material gets in the cave and grows bacterial slime. We’re very much dependent on that,” Toomey says.

But they’re also vulnerable for that same reason, because in with that organic material could also come toxins, poisons, pollution.

“Household run off is still potentially an issue. It’s still an agricultural area. We have to make sure we work with people on best management practices, trying to reduce the amount of chemical usage,” said Toomey.

Scientists at both Mammoth Cave and Horse cave monitor groundwater constantly. But caves without national protection or vigilant conservation—caves all over Kentucky—are often still neglected.

Blog Archive Environment Blog

Bye, Bye Birdie?

Notice fewer visitors to your bird feeder? Can’t remember the last time you heard the call of the Kentucky Warbler? Some of the most common song birds are disappearing around the country, thanks to habitat loss.

The U.S. House subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans heard testimony Thursday on the global decline of bird populations, just as the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act is up for reauthorization. The Act provides funding for on-the-ground conservation efforts in Central and South American countries, as well as Canada’s boreal forests, where many of the United States’ most common migratory birds breed or winter.

Testimony from the National Audubon Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and more brought up some startling statistics:

  • 20 of the nation’s most common bird species have lost more than half their population over the past 40 years (that includes four species of sparrows and the Eastern Meadowlark)
  • Scientists see declines in shrub and grassland, forest, and wetland bird populations
  • They also say it’s likely that populations of the Cerulean Warbler – once a common song bird in eastern U.S. forests – will decline by more than 90% over this centuryIllustration of male and female Kentucky Warblers from a 1917 issue of the National Geographic.

So, what’s to blame for the drastic drop in populations? Habitat loss due to more consolidated and intensive farming and suburban development top the list. But here are a few other reasons:

  • Global warming: warmer temperatures, longer warm seasons, and all the attendant changes are causing changes in where birds can thrive, and how they access water and food.
  • Invasive species that like warmer climes: species that simply choke ecosystems, compete with birds’ natural forage or habitat, or prey on birds (like fire ants in the southeast) are also pushing birds over the brink.

Witnesses at the hearing offered several solutions, including increasing funding for conservation, encouraging the National Wildlife Refuge program to look into ways to connect fragmented habitats, and encouraging federal and state agencies to restore destroyed habitats, such as wetlands.

You can listen to the testimony here.