FLINT, Mich. (AP) - Officials involved in construction of a massive water pipeline to serve parts of Michigan, including Flint, are keeping a small endangered mussel in mind as they prepare for work.
The Karegnondi Water Authority wants to cut its way through the Black River in Sanilac County as it digs the path for the Lake Huron pipeline. The federally protected northern riffleshell lives in the river bed, The Flint Journal reported.
The presence of the mussel could force crews to tunnel far beneath the river, adding time and money to the project.
Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright said the Karegnondi Water Authority is in discussions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about whether a contractor will be allowed to open-cut from beneath the water rather than tunnel below the surface.
With an open-cut, he said, the pipeline can be laid a section at a time by temporarily diverting water.
Wright said that the discussions don't threaten to halt or even slow down the project, which is designed to end the area's reliance on Detroit for its public water supply. The area for years has been supplied by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
"It just comes down to which technique is least disruptive," Wright said. "EPA is going to let us cross the river, but they haven't decided which construction they want us to use."
The EPA expects the project to affect more than 30 acres of wetlands and involve 55 stream crossings.
The EPA told the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in a letter last month that it is "concerned that there will be permanent loss of aquatic functions due to temporary impacts" on rivers and wetlands, including freshwater mussels during construction.
Concerns by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the northern riffleshell and the eastern massasauga rattlesnake must be addressed before construction, the EPA said.
The Karegnondi Water Authority plans to complete its pipeline in 2016 from Lake Huron. A groundbreaking was held last year. The pipeline will serve Flint, and residents elsewhere in Genesee, Lapeer and Sanilac counties also could use water from the project.
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