HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (AP) — An estimated 25,000 seabirds lost their nesting site of 40 years when it was paved over during a tunnel expansion project in coastal Virginia, state Department of Transportation officials confirmed to a newspaper.
Crews finished paving the entire south island of the nearly $4 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel last month, a Transportation Department spokeswoman told The Virginian-Pilot, and in doing so did away with a large bird colony’s nesting area while those birds were migrating south for the winter.
A new island for the birds will not be constructed, the department confirmed. And officials said they won’t know how it will affect the population until the animals return in the spring. Researchers think some will try to lay eggs while others will fly off to find another spot to call home, the newspaper reported.
Transportation officials did work with researchers and federal agencies to establish another place for them to live, but those efforts were largely abandoned after the Trump administration came out with an interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 2017. The interpretation loosened repercussions for bird deaths during construction projects like that of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.
Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says Virginia’s conservation efforts for the birds are “purely voluntary,” news outlets reported.
Still, in October, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries submitted a request to the Army Corps of Engineers to use dredged material to build a bird island, according to the agency’s executive director Ryan Brown. But that could take years, and cost and feasibility is still unknown, he said.