Rare Beetle Could Disrupt School Project in Texas

The habitat of the endangered ground beetle — Rhadine exilis – is threatened by Bexar County's urbanization and population growth, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, writes Jennifer R. Lloyd at My San Antonio.

It's close to the 81-acre site of a proposed middle school that North East Independent School District plans to build if voters approve a $399.4 million bond proposition on Nov. 8. The $65 million building, one of 18 projects in the bond proposal, would alleviate overcrowding.

"Without this new middle school, we just do not have the capacity north of 1604, and we will be forced to change boundaries," North East Superintendent Brian Gottardy told the school board during a recent meeting.

Extraordinarily, the school district and a real estate development company with property nearby have asked the government to remove Black Cat Cave from the beetle's critical habitat list, claiming the beetle does not live in the cave and possibly never did.

However, the designation would not necessarily hinder NEISD's plan because the school would not be built with federal dollars or on federal property. Only those who develop projects using federal dollars or property in a critical habitat area would have to meet additional requirements, writes Jennifer Lloyd in another article at My San Antonio.

"Our construction plan is well thought-out and will have no impact on the Black Cat Cave area or any endangered species in this area," Garrett Sullivan, the district's executive director of construction management and engineering, said in an email.

The nearly 209,000-square-foot school would accommodate 1,250 to 1,500 students and incorporate green building features such as a water reclamation system.

The district also strives to preserve "natural vegetative zones" at school sites, he said.

Richard Heilbrun, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist, said those building near an endangered species habitat could come to both Texas Parks and Wildlife and the USFWS for guidance on whether modifying the construction plan or mitigating harm by preserving land elsewhere would be necessary.

"People tend to hear endangered species and become alarmed," Heilbrun said. "But there are almost always opportunities to make small changes for the benefit of both the project and the natural resource."

Adam Zerrenner, an Austin-based USFWS field supervisor said he had not received any information about the possible school and could not comment on whether it would threaten the beetle. He said the district could approach USFWS to discuss whether the district should create a habitat conservation plan.

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