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Post photographer Michael Williamson is traveling across the country covering the economic situation.

Turtles and Tires in Tallahassee

LakeSND.jpg

Tom Nelson stands in front of Lake Jackson, which was split by a highway that poses a danger to turtles and other wildlife. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

TALLAHASSEE, Florida-- Michael and I hadn’t given much thought to the road beneath us – blacktop is blacktop – until we sped, then slowed, along a one-mile stretch just north of Tallahassee.

It’s a place where four lanes of highway cut through a lake, and as a result, more tires have reportedly collided with turtles here than anywhere else in North America. If the obvious question is, why do the turtles cross the road (you know you were thinking it), the answer is simply because it’s the path they’ve taken for generations, before development sliced through nature and shell-crushing SUVs became popular.

Michael and I stopped along the stretch of US Highway 27 near Lake Jackson to meet Tom Nelson and discuss how this project--a plan to build tunnels that turtles can use so they can cross the highway in their usual leisurely fashion--became one of the many slated to receive federal stimulus money. Nelson, one of several local volunteers, said the project was shovel-ready and state-sanctioned long before the federal government chose to hand over $3.4 million in stimulus funds. This was no overnight effort.

“It’s been a 10-year project,” Nelson said. “It’s not something that was contrived as a stimulus project. That’s not what’s going on here at all. We have jumped through every hoop.”

He walked Michael and me along the temporary fence that Matt Aresco spent hours building and even more time maintaining over the years. Aresco, who launched the entire effort, was a graduate student in herpetology at Florida State University when he noticed dead turtles littering the road and decided to take action. By his calculations, about 23,500 vehicles travel along this stretch of highway each day, killing more than 2,000 turtles a year along with 60-plus species of other animals, including bobcats, snakes and alligators.

“It’s alive,” Nelson said, as we stood beside the water, beneath the highway. “This lake is alive.”

The water near our feet rippled with minnows and a frog nearby croaked loudly.

“We’re not just talking turtles,” Nelson said. “Do you want to lose thousands of anything a year?”

One underground culvert connecting the two bodies of water already exists, but the plan calls for building two more culverts, along with a permanent wall to guide animals away from the road and toward the safe underground passageways.

Nelson has a picture of a sea turtle on his license plate, but said even if people don’t have an appreciation for the creatures, they should see the project’s benefits to human beings. A private donor paid $370,000 for the land needed to start construction and a bid for the work is expected to go out in the next few weeks. Construction is slated to start in September or October and will likely create more than a 100 jobs for at least a year, Nelson said.

In addition to employment, he added, there’s another benefit to steering the animals away from the road – the hazards of hitting one. It was a reality not lost on Michael and me as we drove away, unhurriedly, scanning the road for slow-moving speed bumps.

TunnelSND.jpg

Tom Nelson stands in a culvert that runs under the road and provides safe passage for turtles and other animals crossing from one side of Lake Jackson to the other. A stimulus-supported project will add two more culverts and a wall along the road. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

By Theresa Vargas  |  June 30, 2009; 10:53 AM ET
 
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Comments

I'm glad somebody is looking out for the turtles but this is a perfect example of why the stimulus bill isn't creating jobs.

Using federal money for this is a bad idea.

Posted by: alstl | June 30, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I was vacationing in the area recently and it is a beautiful place, with alligators, turtles, rare birds, etc.

Just like in the New Deal, let's use our tax dollars to preserve and improve God Bless America.

I'm sick and tired of using our tax dollars to get our sons and daughters killed in some foreign land for oil money.

I'm not real happy with Obama on a number of issues, but I'm all for making our country a better place, even on things that might seem silly, like saving turtles and other of God's creatures.

Posted by: beenthere3 | June 30, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Before "shell-crushing SUVs became popular," did small subcompact cars simply bounce over the tops of unharmed turtles?

Posted by: Jumpy66 | June 30, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Actually, alstl, this project is a perfect example of how stimulus dollars are being used to create jobs AND help our country. The previously unemployed, or under-employed, construction workers who will build this project and many like it around our nation are direct beneficiaries of stimulus dollars. So are the local businesses who benefit from tourists like beenthere3 who visit to enjoy the area's natural beauty. Oh, and some wildlife will benefit too. It's a win win win situation!

Posted by: catlaz1 | June 30, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Projects like this are exactly what the stimulus should fund - worthwhile, shovel ready projects that otherwise get lost. Look at all the positive projects that were constructed by the civilian conservation corps out of the new deal - we need more projects like that.

Posted by: JBaker76 | June 30, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes you just have to spend the money to save the animals because there's no other way. In the Canadian Rockies there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles of high livestock fence and then they built bridges so the animals could go OVER the highways.

However, if its just one mile of asphalt in Florida, I would recommend that, instead of spending $3.4 million, they just lower the speed limit to 25, install speed bumps, and tell everybody to slow down and avoid the animals.

Hey, it's only a mile. And, at 25 mph, it would take 4 minutes instead of 1 minute at 60 mph.

Posted by: Heerman532 | June 30, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Save the turtles while Americans lose their jobs and homes. Has this whole country gone crazy ?

Posted by: JUNGLEJIM123 | June 30, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

If crazy is thinking you should care for all of God's creatures then sign me up.

Posted by: JBaker76 | June 30, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

See, this is the kind of thing that, as a taxpayer, I would like to pay for when our government ISN'T four or five trillion dollars in debt.

But that's just me.

Posted by: gilbertbp | June 30, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Other things we could have done with $3.4 million:

-Pay 4 people salaries of $40k/year to grab the turtle before it crosses the road and carry it over. They could do this for 20 years and we still wouldn't have spent $3.4 million
-Buy each turtle little skateboards that they can carry on their Yakima "shell-racks" and hire an instructor to show them how to scoot across safely
-Send the Obamas off to a romantic weekend in Venice
-Reduce our taxes and let us decide how to spend our money

Posted by: GodFamilyNation | June 30, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I was vacationing in the area recently and it is a beautiful place, with alligators, turtles, rare birds, etc.

Just like in the New Deal, let's use our tax dollars to preserve and improve God Bless America.

I'm sick and tired of using our tax dollars to get our sons and daughters killed in some foreign land for oil money.

I'm not real happy with Obama on a number of issues, but I'm all for making our country a better place, even on things that might seem silly, like saving turtles and other of God's creatures.

Posted by: beenthere3 | June 30, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

That's perfectly fine. Fl. is more than welcome to spend state tax revenue to solve a problem THEY CREATED. The stimulus was designed to create jobs and turn the economy around. Not for green peace projects.

Posted by: askgees | June 30, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I was vacationing in the area recently and it is a beautiful place, with alligators, turtles, rare birds, etc.

Just like in the New Deal, let's use our tax dollars to preserve and improve God Bless America.

I'm sick and tired of using our tax dollars to get our sons and daughters killed in some foreign land for oil money.

I'm not real happy with Obama on a number of issues, but I'm all for making our country a better place, even on things that might seem silly, like saving turtles and other of God's creatures.

Posted by: beenthere3 | June 30, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

That's perfectly fine. Fl. is more than welcome to spend state tax revenue to solve a problem THEY CREATED. The stimulus was designed to create jobs and turn the economy around. Not for green peace projects.

Posted by: askgees | June 30, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Regardless of where the money comes from, it is one of the few tangible good things everyday people can see and share. No "bridge to no where" ad nauseum, no political crud.

Life is good; life is better, for it!

Posted by: Hive | June 30, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

The project is similar to a successful one at Payne's Prairie, a vast marsh at the edge of Gainesville. While it arguably could wait until Florida's tax receipts recover to normal levels, the wildlife underpasses are consistent with the state's conservation policies; Florida has made a priority of purchasing and managing conservation lands.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | June 30, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

GodFamilyNation missed a more important alternative for using the $3.4 million:

Pay for the damages to vehicles and for personal injuries and replacing lives in the aftermath of a turtle shell missile.

Yes - that is what happens when one of these critters is hit by a moving vehicle.

Posted by: jwtusjp | June 30, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

I'd be happy to stop and direct traffic any time for one of those turtles. Give me that stimulas money and Uncle Sam has a loyal employee for life! And I'm sure many others would want or be envious my job too.

Posted by: derutadiva | June 30, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I person's stimulus is another person's pork.

This post is so off-topic post. It's supposed to be about people helping (not helping) people, not turtle rescues.

hmmm...

Give's one the feeling that Williamson may have told Vargas to look up who got what stimulus near Apachicola Bay so they could put on "half-a-tank" turtle themed swimsuits for a beach break this weekend.

'Busted'!

Posted by: HereComesTheJudge | June 30, 2009 11:40 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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