Caves pur­chased so bugs won’t de­lay Texas 195 work

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Ben­jam­inwer­mund bw­er­mund@states­man.com Con­tact Ben­jamin Wermund at 246-1150. Twit­ter: @Ben­jam­inew

Wil­liamson County will spend a lit­tle more than $1.1 mil­lion to pur­chase a clus­ter of caves that are home to en­dan­gered bugs in an ef­fort to min­i­mize po­ten­tial fu­ture de­lays on the long-stalled Texas 195 project.

The high­way, which runs from Killeen to In­ter­state 35, has a rep­u­ta­tion as a dan­ger­ous stretch of road, which was one rea­son for the project. But the fed­er­ally pro­tected sta­tus of two bug species that live in caves be­neath the south­ern por­tion of the high­way has stalled the decade-old project for at least five years.

“We have been work­ing on se­cur­ing the mit­i­ga­tion for SH 195 so the project can be started. This Karankawa cave ac­com­plishes that,” Com­mis­sioner Va­lerie Covey said. “It’s an over­due project. ... We’ve been work­ing on it for a long time.”

Com­mis­sion­ers Tues­day ap­proved the pur­chase of two tracts of land, about 52 acres in North­ern Wil­liamson County that in­clude the Karankawa Cave, home to the en­dan­gered Cof­fin Cave mold bee­tle and the Bone Cave har­vest­man.

The county has ap­plied for fed­eral fund­ing, which would cover up to 75 per­cent of the pur­chase, ac­cord­ing to county doc­u­ments. The rest of the pur­chase will be cov­ered by the county’s con­ser­va­tion foun­da­tion, which is funded through mit­i­ga­tion fees charged for some de­vel­op­ments in the county.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice last De­cem­ber re­leased a re­quired bi­o­log­i­cal report to en­sure the road­work could be done with­out any neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pli- cations. The report re­quired some caves be pro­tected. Ear­lier this year the Texas De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion spent about $1.5 mil­lion pur­chas­ing the Cobb Cav­ern for the project.

Gary Boyd, the county’s en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­gram’s di­rec­tor, said the Karankawa Cave pur­chase is a sort of backup to the Cobb Cav­ern, be­cause Fish and Wildlife would re­quire an­other con­sul­ta­tion if work on the road hit more cav­erns, pos­si­bly re­quir­ing ad­di­tional pro­tec­tions.

The high­way project is split into three por­tions, the north­ern seven-mile por­tion of which is al­ready un­der con­struc­tion with a price tag of $39 mil­lion. The cave pur­chase was re­quired to be­gin work on the mid­dle por­tion.

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