By Ken Williams
USACE Memphis District Public Affairs Office
On May 23, four members of the USACE Memphis District Dive Team set-off on a mission to help ensure the protection of the federally threatened Inflated Heelsplitter (Potamilus Inflatus) Mussel.
The dive team traveled to Demopolis, Ala. to conduct endangered mussel surveys for a proposed U.S. Coast Guard Foscue Creek Station dredging project. Siltation in the creek has created challenges for traffic accessing the station. The Coast Guard and the Mobile District are partnering to dredge the challenging areas of the creek.
Dive team members Andrea Carpenter, Josh Koontz, Mark Smith, and Mike Thron gathered their equipment and boarded the vessel they call “The Heelsplitter” to conduct their surveys. During their surveys, the team collected inflated heelsplitter mussels at the two locations of the proposed dredging. The mussels were turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as part of their study.
The Inflated Heelsplitter Mussel is a species of freshwater mussel that is listed as “threatened.” Dredging operations done as part of river channel maintenance can destroy the mussel’s habitat and put it at risk.
Once the results of the survey are compiled, the Mobile District will use the information to begin Section 7 consultation with the USFWS. Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, called Interagency Cooperation, is the mechanism by which federal agencies ensure the actions they undertake do not jeopardize the existence of any listed species.
“The overall goal of our project was to help minimize the impact the proposed dredging project might have on the federally threatened Inflated Heelsplitter Mussel. The team may return to the site to conduct a relocation depending upon the Fish and Wildlife Service’s determination,” Mark Smith, Environmental Compliance chief said.
Dive team member, Andrea Carpenter, a fish and wildlife biologist, said, “It’s always beneficial to get outside the Memphis District when our team can help another district. We were able to expand our knowledge and expertise with freshwater mussels, as well as providing useful data for the projects and the region. Working with colleagues from the Mobile District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to aid in completion of a project for the U.S. Coast Guard was a great experience.”