COLUMBIA, SC (AP) The National Park Service says a state plan to replace the U.S. 601 bridge over the Congaree River would damage wetlands and wildlife habitat near South Carolina’s only national park.
The Department of Transportation is planning a $25 million project to build new bridges and causeways along about four miles of the highway to replace deteriorating structures built in the 1950s.
The new bridge is needed, but state officials should build bridges over more of the flood plain approaching the river instead of building causeways that restrict movement of water and wildlife, Congaree National Park superintendent Martha Bogle said.
The project also cuts through about 4,500 acres approved by Congress to expand the 22,000-acre Congaree National Park.
“I would not be doing my job as a National Park Service superintendent if I didn’t state some concerns as the project now exists,” Bogle said.
But transportation officials said suggestions by the Park Service and environmentalists would triple the cost of building the new bridge, which separates Calhoun and Richland counties.
“We have to be very prudent with every dollar we spend,” said Berry Still, a project official with the DOT. “Without having somebody else come in here and defer that cost for us, it would be a humongous hit to the overall state budget.”
DOT plans to work with the Park Service in other ways. One is to install openings through the causeways to allow water and animals to pass under the road.
Congaree National Park was first founded as a federal preserve in 1976. It became a national park about two years ago.
The park contains the largest contiguous tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the country. More than 700 species of plants have been verified in the park, which also is home to alligators, wild pigs, snakes, turtles, bobcats, deer and a variety of bird species.