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Palm Harbor Beacon
Win-win situation
Tortoises safe, water service improved
Water pipe installation delayed for gopher tortoises
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[Image]
Photo courtesy of Pinellas County DEI
The first gopher tortoise is photographed Aug. 1, excavation day. It was one of 12 found that day.
[Image]
Photo courtesy of Pinellas County DEI
Hugh Dinkler, with Ecological Services and Associates, holds a juvenile gopher tortoise, which was relocated Aug. 1 out of a water line project area in Palm Harbor. Joining Dinkler are members of Pinellas County’s Environment & Infrastructure staff, from left, Anderson Mitchell, Billy Bay, project manager; Jesse Walker, Troy Killius and Chris Smith.
[Image]
Photo courtesy of Pinellas County DEI
Workers from DEI’s north county Water and Sewer maintenance group install a parameter-staked silt fence within a buffer zone in preparation for relocating gopher tortoises to a safe area.
[Image]
Photo courtesy of Pinellas County DEI
A tortoise is measured as part of the requirements of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s process for removing and relocation gopher tortoises. They also were weighed and the rings on their shells were counted to estimate age.
PALM HARBOR – Residents along Fisher Road in Palm Harbor had to wait a bit longer for a water line that would allow for fire hydrants and improved service. But, if tests on the line done last week came back OK, the water should now be flowing.

All without harm to one of Florida’s threatened species.

When the project to install 1,200 linear feet of six-inch PVC pipe started, workers found several holes and burrows in the ground. Pinellas County’s Department of Environment & Infrastructure soon discovered that the site was the habitat of the gopher tortoise (gopherus polyphemus).

In Florida, the gopher tortoise is listed as a threatened species, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The tortoise and its burrow are protected under state law. Gopher tortoises must be relocated before any land clearing or development takes place, and property owners must obtain permits from the FWC before capturing and relocating tortoises.

“When the workers told me about the turtle holes, I hired biologists, ESA, because we’re not licensed to remove,” said Billy Bay, DEI Engineering project manager.

Bay hired Ecological Services and Associates, an environmental/ecological consultant, who assisted in getting the proper permits for removal and relocation.

The FWC required a survey of the project limits plus an additional 25-foot buffer on all sides to determine how many active, inactive and abandoned burrows were on the site. ESA biologists surveyed the area and found 19 tortoise burrows, 11 active, four inactive and four abandoned.

ESA then applied for permits for removal and relocation. North county Water and Sewer maintenance group personnel installed the perimeter and a staked silt fence within the buffer zone. They also helped with excavation of the burrows.

Bay explained that the work had to be done very carefully. They used a “non-invasive” bulldozer with rubber treads to clear the area. The actual excavations were done by hand.

On moving day, Aug. 1, biologists found 12 gopher tortoises of different sizes, ages and gender – adult males and females and juveniles. Bay said the biologists counted the number of rings on the tortoises’ shells to determine their age. Then, they were weighed and measured before they were relocated to an adjacent site – 20 acres of land owned by the Pinellas County School Board.

The process went smoothly with only one small glitch. Biologists found more tortoises than they had permits. ESA applied for and was granted three more, and the last of the tortoises were moved.

Bay said he was involved in one other project that had required assistance from specialists. He recalled a project done in 2005 to replace a bridge at Fort De Soto. The area had been used by the Air Force in the past and there was the possibility of finding bombs.

“We hired experts from Desert Storm,” he said.

County staff has since finished the original job – water pipe installation. Cost of the project using a private contractor was estimated at $84,000; however, staff did it for about $40,000.

Bay said the majority of work by his staff is now being done in-house instead of hiring a contractor. He said county workers had the equipment and the expertise, but mostly had been doing maintenance. Now, he designs the projects and his crew does the job.

Bay is proud of the work he does and the fact that most of it is done in-house. Of the 20 projects done last year, only two were done by contractors, he said.

“It’s a good advertisement to the public that taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely to see us do the work ourselves,” he said.

He also said it was good for morale.

“It’s good when we accomplish something,” he said.

Finding and being part of moving the tortoises to a safe location made the workers happy, he said.

“We saved taxpayers money and we saved the turtles,” he said.
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