Kangaroo rat might detour San Bernardino street project
Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/04/2011 08:10:49 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – A furry little roadblock may stall the city’s plans to extend State Street.

And the 1.5-mile project to link the 210 Freeway to Fifth Street on the Westside could cost millions more because the federally protected San Bernardino kangaroo rat has been spotted in the area.

“We could be really high (in) mitigation costs, depending on how much habitat we’re impacting,” City Engineer Robert Eisenbeisz said.

The city has $2 million – mostly through Measure I funding, a half-cent sales tax passed by county voters in 1989 – allocated for environmental and design work, but the project may balloon to $40 million, with as much as $18 million going toward mitigating damage to the kangaroo rats’ habitat.

At the same time, Eisenbeisz said mitigation work could cost as little as $3 million to $5 million.

Plans have been in the works for years to alleviate traffic in the area along Medical Center Drive and Mount Vernon Avenue by extending State Street.

“The point of this is that it gives (the city) a north-south arterial,” Eisenbeisz said. “Medical Center (Drive) wasn’t really intended to be a major arterial, but it’s operating that way. And the only other one is Mount Vernon (Avenue).”

Already having to work around power utilities and private businesses in the area, the city was hit with another obstacle when consultants found the kangaroo rat.

“So we’re threading the needle through here to try to avoid costs with having to relocate big towers,” Eisenbeisz said. “We’re strategically trying to come up with alignments that will avoid a lot of those things. We’re also trying to avoid the biological issues. It’s just one more constraint that we have.”

In January, a federal judge’s ruling increased critical habitat area for the endangered animal, from about 8,000 acres to more than 33,000 acres, when she overruled a 2008 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that cut the kangaroo rats’ critical habitat from 33,290 acres to 7,779.

Wildlife advocates lauded the decision and said it will further help the small mammal recover its numbers so it might one day be taken off the endangered species list.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act.

While development is not prohibited in critical habitat areas, developers and agencies must mitigate impacts to endangered species in the areas.

Mitigation may include buying alternate habitat land.

The city is looking into doing that for the State Street project, which runs near the Lytle Creek Wash.

The city, which is cooperating with the Fish and Wildlife Service, also is considering building culverts into the project so animals can cross through the area.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2002 set critical habitat for the animal at 33,290 acres in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The decision was challenged by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based legal organization that advocates for a balanced approach to environmental protection, according to its website.

To read entire story, click here.