The 6.34-mile, limited-access highway would give Chattooga and Floyd a straight shot to Interstate 75 in Bartow County and ease congestion through Cartersville.
“We are currently looking at a methodology for the Indiana bat and how it impacts this project,” said Albert Shelby, Georgia Department of Transportation senior project manager.
Bartow is not expected to be within the range of the bat, whose numbers have shrunk to less than 400,000 since it was listed as endangered in 1967. Still, the colony of presumed females must be examined and the findings included in the report to the Federal Highway Administration.
Indiana bats were last documented in Georgia in 1966, in two Dade County caves, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Most of them spend the winter hibernating in caves in Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky. They migrate to forests in the summer, roosting under loose tree bark, and the females give birth to a single offspring each in June and July.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet on the tiny, rare bat states the young are able to fly within about four weeks. Summer surveys should be conducted between May 15 and August 15, before they head back to their winter caves.
The wealthy Rollins family has raised numerous environmental issues in an effort to halt the selected Route D-VE through their 1,800-acre Cartersville ranch — but the Indiana bat was tracked by researchers in April from a Tennessee cave to the Rich Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Gilmer County.
“The Indiana bat is an environmental concern we did not raise with GDOT,” said Henry Parkman, attorney for the Rollins family.
Rulings are still pending on the issues they did raise: the historic nature of an old mine on Dobbins Mountain, the damage boring into the mountain may do to nearby streams housing the threatened Cherokee darter, the presence of the protected Pink Ladyslipper wildflower, and the late-date donation of a wildlife refuge easement to the city of Euharlee.
Parkman also pointed out that funding for construction is not scheduled until 2019.
“An alternate route could be built much sooner and cheaper,” he said.
The regional transportation sales tax package up for a vote July 31 contains $73 million toward the $146 million needed for the project.
State Transportation Board member Jeff Lewis, who represents the Congressional district that includes Floyd and Bartow, said the fate of the TSPLOST created under the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 won’t make or break the Connector.
“If the TIA passes it could become wholly a state project, which may cause the issues the feds are concerned about to go away,” Lewis said. “If the TIA fails and the feds approve the project, it will follow the same projected funding course that it is currently on.”