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Bridge Project Haulted for Fish, Wildlife Lizard Permit

KHTS AM1220

Posted 11/19/2013

The unexpected sighting of a North American legless lizard halted construction of an overpass for Highway 126 in the Santa Clarita Valley, a county official said Thursday.

County officials are now waiting for word from the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife on whether the constuction may be permitted to continue, said Kerjon Lee, public affairs manager for Los Angeles County.

“We’ve submitted our permit and we haven’t received comment based on the application,” Lee said. “The minimum that (state officials) are allotted to review our application is 20 days and (Wednesday) marked 20 days.”

A permit from the department would allow officials to proceed with laying the foundation for the project, Lee said.

Santa Clarita Valley construction company C.A. Rasmussen earned the winning bid on the project, which was stopped in October when the legless lizard was found.

The legless reptile, which has been called “deceptively snake-like” by animal experts, differs from a snake in several ways.

The presence of eyelids, which a snake lacks, and the way the creature maneuvers, are a few of the ways the lizard can be differentiate from a snake.

The legless lizard was not expected to be present at the site, based environmental impact study that was conducted before construction began, according to project officials.

There have been four new species of the legless lizard discovered in the last four years alone, and in the past, scientists have expressed difficulty in finding and tracking the reptiles.

County officials have already taken extensive measures to preserve the local habitat, which has been a multi-agency effort, Lee said.

“ L.A. County Public Works recognizes the intrinsic value of the region’s natural resources and has worked closely with the State Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan for proceeding with environmental sustainability as a top priority,” he stated in an email.

“The widening of (Highway 126) and realignment of Henry Mayo Drive will be mitigated with an extensive 3:1 tree replacement plan that includes the restoration of 4.5 acres of on-site riparian habitat and wetlands creation. Invasive plant species will be removed and replaced with native and riparian habitat, and a biologist will be on site during construction to monitor the work and minimize impacts to sensitive plants and animal species.”

The next step of construction, once permits are attained, is to drive 136 piles into the grounds, Lee said.

“Those piles would make up the foundation of the bridge,” he said, “and they’ll be driven about 40 feet into the ground.”

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