Tortoises slow Wekiva Parkway construction - FOX 35 News Orlando

Tortoises slow Wekiva Parkway construction

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To make way for the Wekiva Parkway, biologists and engineers are removing several gopher tortoises from a sandy area of Apopka, at a cost of more than $100,000 to taxpayers and toll payers.

The process is painstakingly slow. A backhoe moves dirt from around any burrow that is found, and then an engineer or biologist, like Mike Dinardo from C3TS/Stantec, does the rest with a shovel.

"You have a PVC pipe that goes down in there that's in the way, that actually prevents tortoises from being harmed. They basically do the heavy lifting, and then the biologist goes in there clears it out and gets it real close, and of course the biologist also has to be really careful with a sharp shovel."

Dinardo tells FOX 35 that since the gopher tortoise is a threatened species, they take every care to find as many as possible before a road project is built.

"Tortoises are very important to the ecology of Florida.  They provide home and refuge for over 300 species."

The gopher tortoise will burrow anywhere from 20 to 35 feet into the ground, with many twists and turns along the way. Each time one is removed, the cost to the tax or toll payer is anywhere from 500 to a thousand dollars depending on how many they find. Florida Department of Transportation Spokesman Steve Olson says they do what the law requires.

"There are rules and regs as far as handling wildlife, and you know, if you are going to build a road you have to follow that. That's part of the game, and so that cost is built into building a road."

They've already removed 41 gopher tortoises from the area off CR435 and Huff Road, where the Wekiva Parkway project is already underway, and they believe as many as 150 of the tortoises could be found here. 

Engineers and planners built in time into the project so the animals could be found and removed.  Each one will be relocated to a tortoise sanctuary in Okeechobee County.

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