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Eagles delay paving south of Oak Harbor

One of the two bald eagles responsible for postponing a state Department of Transportation paving project south of Oak Harbor relaxes near its nest Thursday afternoon. - Paul Boring/Whidbey News-Times
One of the two bald eagles responsible for postponing a state Department of Transportation paving project south of Oak Harbor relaxes near its nest Thursday afternoon.
— image credit: Paul Boring/Whidbey News-Times

A pair of nesting bald eagles is delaying completion of a paving project on Highway 20 south of Oak Harbor.

The paving project, which was slated to begin late this spring, won’t start until after July 15.

Crews need five nights of good weather to finish the last part of a $9.6 million project that began last year. That project included lowering two hills on the highway to improve sight distance for motorists.

“It’s basically the work we tried to get done last year. The rain just killed us,” said Dave Chesson, DOT spokesman.

One of the majestic, scavenging offal eaters lazed on a branch Thursday afternoon as it scanned the area for sustenance. The embarrassment of halting a large construction project has not sent the birds into hiding. In the nests, it’s business as usual.

The bald eagles, which were removed from Federal Endangered Species Protection in July 2007, are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The two acts address nest tree protection and protection from harassment.

Alan Soicher, environmental manager for the Department of Transportation, said nests need a 660-foot radius and this one is closer than that to the highway.

Transportation officials have been working with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to find a solution. Soicher said it was decided to simply wait for the July 15 date to pass because that’s the date written into the statute as when young eagles fledge.

Eagle interference with the project is nothing new. Crews were restricted in their work last year and had to wait to begin work lowering one of the two hills.

Because of the eagles’ presence, workers can’t pave at night because the lights could leave the big birds vulnerable to predators. And they can’t pave during the day because it would cause too much traffic congestion.

The DOT could be liable for penalties if workers disturb the eagles while they are nesting.

Chesson said crews need five dry nights of weather to complete the paving and the rain that has been drenching Whidbey Island so far this spring has prevented a long enough work window.

Construction on the project began in April 2007. The project also includes widening the lanes, adding left turn lanes and a bus pullout, and improving drainage.

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