Bastrop Co. escape route project runs into endangered species concerns

Bastrop County

BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — The endangered Houston Toad is threatening fire recovery plans in Bastrop County.

The county wants to spend part of a federal grant to create another escape route for the next emergency. However, some fear it could create an emergency for animals that are already struggling to survive. 

The ingress/egress road is just one of 13 projects part of the county’s U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s $25 million grant following the Bastrop County Complex wildfires of 2011.

This would be the second ingress/egress road project on the list. County commissioners say the goal is for this road to connect the Tahitian Village and Colovista subdivisions. 

“These are specifically to get people out of areas quickly that are at risk for fire,” said Clara Beckett, county commissioner for precinct 2.

The road is estimated to cost a little more than $5 million and will be a couple of miles long, according to the county, with a section of the road expected to pass through the Copperas Creek.

“They will have to bulldoze all of this habitat for the Houston Toads as well as have a habitat that we’re finding lots of ancient artifacts in,” said Chris Parachini, a concerned neighbor who also owns five acres of the Copperas Creek he purchased in 2016 to transform into a preserve

Parachini says the area needs to be protected to ensure the future of the Houston Toad, an endangered species. 

Beckett says the county is taking steps to ensure the amphibian’s future and has completed an assessment required by the Endangered Species Act.

“Anytime that you’re going to have a disturbance of any kind in an endangered species area there’s likely to be impacts and that’s the way the law is kind of designed,” said Beckett. “It’s called an incidental take permit because you might accidentally in the course of your normal lawful activity cause some kind of harm to the habitat or species and then you have to mitigate accordingly.”

Beckett says the county decided to hire “an environmental firm.” But, Parachini says no substitute compares to the natural habit. 

“It will definitely affect the biology of this place, it’s remained unchanged since forever, it’s never been changed never been altered,” he said. 

Beckett says they’re close to finishing up the design and they could break ground as early as this summer on the project. 

Other projects include expanding and adding shelter resources, increasing the local radio’s reach through purchasing a tower and increasing frequencies as well as a fire station located between Elgin and Bastrop. 

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