By Marjorie Lloyd
They are small and easily fit into the palm of a hand; they usually have single pups or a set of twins per year. They have fingers and a thumb that are webbed, which give them agility.
Their ears are famous, but not as much as their silhouette at Halloween.
Bram Stoker should be ashamed. He gave bats a bad name, as well as a few other unimaginative novelists, less than stellar movie producers and those who repeat misinformation because it makes a “good story.”
But bats may enter into the construction and completion of the Albert Gallatin/Hatten Track Road extension.
The public is just now beginning to understand the importance of bats to man’s survival. These relatively dainty critters are currently under siege by a new disease called “white nose syndrome,” a fungus that irritates their faces and wings while they hibernate, causing them to wake during a time when their food is unavailable. Thus, they starve and die and are doing so in frightening numbers.
It was first detected in 2006 in the Northeast. The disease has quickly reached our state.
According to Bat Conservation International, “Scientists estimate that the million bats that have died so far would have consumed just under 700 tons of insects.”
Of the 15 species of bats (who knew?) in Tennessee, two are endangered and others are “species of concern.”
The two endangered ones are the Gray bat and the Indiana bat.
The latter one has a wingspan of 9-11 inches and choose to spend summers in hollow trees with wide, loose bark where they raise their one pup. They hibernate in caves in the winter.
Currently, one of the major transportation projects for Gallatin is the one termed Albert Gallatin/Hatten Track Road Extension.
The firm of Gresham, Smith and Partners is under contract with the City of Gallatin to conduct the environmental and design project phases, and TDOT will conduct the Right-of-Way and Construction phases of the project.
“We have a grant with TDOT which is an 80/20 grant – TDOT pays 80 percent of the project, the City is responsible for 20 percent,” said Rosemary Bates, special projects coordinator for the city of Gallatin.
“This project is to widen and extend Albert GallatinAvenue/Hatten Track Road from the intersection at North Water/Albert Gallatin Avenue (the intersection where Family Heritage Funeral Home is located) all the way to SR 109 North where a new intersection/interchange will be constructed.
“This project includes a new bridge over the railroad tracks between Blythe Avenue and North Water; a new four-way intersection at Blythe Avenue; and a new road extending from this new four-way intersection over to SR 109,” said Bates.
“The council chose to put the new road behind the properties on existing Hatten Track Road– between the back of those properties and the County Road Garage/buildings. The council also voted to pursue an elevated interchange at SR 109 instead of an at-grade intersection.”
One important part of the process is the environmental study required by the federal government because it is providing funding assistance for the project, through the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
One issue encountered in the environmental study is the existence of possible habitat for an endangered species, the Indiana bat.
Margaret Slater, a senior planner for Gresham, Smith and Partners, stated in an interview, “My responsibility is to oversee the preparation of the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) documents. This includes assessing impacts to the human and natural environment and involving the public.”
“Numerous technical studies, for example by ecologists and archaeologists, are conducted to support the impact analysis.”
In August 2010, a public meeting was held about the project and another may occur after the environmental assessment is reviewed and approved by the federal government and TDOT.
“TDOT is reviewing the draft,” said Slater.
“Once TDOT approves it, it goes to the Federal Highway Administration for review and approval. The project has several environmental concerns that will need to be addressed in the design of the project–for example, possible wetlands, an old landfill, and stream crossings.
“Any project with federal funds must follow the National Environmental Policy Act. There are several levels for environmental documents, and the Albert Gallatin/HattenTrack project is requiring a lower level environmental document because it has a low potential for significant impacts.”
Gresham, Smith and Partners will eventually create design the project in cooperation with the city and TDOT, and Slater said, “We can’t invest in design (until the environmental document is approved), if you’re using any federal monies.”
Slater explained that TDOT will be studying the area during the summer months, when the bats may be present in the project area. The bats could roost in hollows of trees or under bark with their offspring.
“If they do find bats just roosting there for a couple of months, the construction could (be planned) to protect the habitat. ... This means that the project area containing trees where the bats could roost could only be disturbed for construction before or after the end of the roosting period for the bats, essentially the trees would need to be removed in the Winter.
“It is the intent of the Endangered Species Act to protect specifies that are important to our ecosystem.”
Many people may question the delay of such a significant project because of the potential for disturbing Indiana bats’ habitat.
The response is complicated but easily understood.
Our genetic nightmares involve insect forms (think of the popularity of Alien series) that some scientists have attributed to our species being in perpetual struggle with insects over food (consider the ancient biblical plague of locusts).
Bats consume 50–100 percent of their body weight per night; many of the insects they devour are crop pests, such as beetles and moths.
.Bats’ important function is serving as pollinators, along with bees, certain wasps, butterflies and other critters.
A world without these pollinators would have far fewer varieties of food
According to one local master gardener, one out of every four bites of food we ingest exists because of the work of the pollinators.
The second most important function of bats is the control of mosquitoes and agricultural pests. No one living in our humid landscape with standing water and ponds can argue about the reduction of mosquitoes.
Contrary to popular misinformation that gives bats a bad reputation, less than one-half of one percent of bats carries rabies.
The public is in more danger of being killed by a dog or lightning or power mowers than rabies from a bat, according to one source.
An individual’s chance of contracting rabies in one in 200 million
The Albert Gallatin/Hatten Track Road extension project will be completed, after careful preparation, and it will benefit the city and the county, as well as allowing us to be ecologically cautious and protective.
In the meantime, anyone interested in preserving the bat population of Sumner County may erect a bat house, especially close to a garden, resist cutting down hollow trees and delay spelunking until the bats recover.