Northam releases plan to protect migratory birds that flock to Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel

HRBT Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel VDOT Generic

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has released a plan to protect migratory birds whose nesting habitat will be affected by the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel expansion project.

About 25,000 migratory birds flock each spring and summer to the HRBT’s South Island, which is considered “probably the most significant single water bird colony in the commonwealth of Virginia.” However, the nesting site is where construction equipment for the HRBT project will be placed.

Conservation groups such as the American Bird Conservancy and Chesapeake Bay Foundation spoke out to help the birds, asking for an alternate nesting site to be developed near South Island.

Related: ‘This is not a small issue’: Bird advocacy group concerned over HRBT expansion project

The governor’s plan released Friday suggests a new habitat on a new island adjacent to HBRT, Fort Wool, as well a new “backstop” regulation to protect against “the federal government’s failure to protect migratory birds.”

Here are the components of the plan from Northam’s office:

  • New policy backstop. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) has initiated the process to develop a regulation to define and permit “incidental take” of migratory birds for major commercial, industrial, and construction projects in the Commonwealth. This rule would make Virginia one of the first states to “backstop” recent federal rollbacks of longstanding migratory bird protections. DGIF will release a discussion draft of the rule for comment in the coming weeks.
  • New habitat for nesting. DGIF will provide habitat for nesting waterbirds by preparing an artificial island adjacent to the HRBT, known as Rip Raps Island (The Department of Conservation and Recreation owns the island, which is also known as Fort Wool.). In addition, DGIF will seek authorization to procure and position barges to provide additional nesting habitat in advance of the upcoming nesting season. 
  • Bird management plan. Before construction begins, the HRBT design builder will develop a bird management plan to ensure effective deterrence of nesting and treatment of nests, eggs, and young that may become established on the HRBT’s South Island. The firm will do this in consultation with VDOT and DGIF.
  • Study possible new long-term habitat. DGIF will accelerate its work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess the feasibility of creating an artificial island to provide long-term habitat for displaced waterbirds.  
  • Restoring habitat after construction. Upon completion of construction, VDOT will restore a portion of nesting habitat on South Island to the maximum extent possible.  
  • Ongoing study: Interactions of Infrastructure and Natural Resources. VDOT and Virginia’s Chief Resiliency Officer commissioned the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to study interactions among transportation infrastructure, migratory birds and other wildlife, and climate change in coastal Virginia.

“This plan demonstrates that infrastructure and development can and must be compatible with wildlife conservation,” Northam said in the release. “It also shows that Virginia is stepping up when federal policies change environmental protections.”

The governor’s office and state agencies say they’ll be ready to accommodate the birds when they return this spring.

The $3.8 billion HRBT expansion, the largest project ever in VDOT’s history, is expected to be completed by November 2025.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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