Caves purchased so bugs won’t delay Texas 195 work
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.