Endangered bee threatens to delay major road project

The discovery of the endangered rusty patch bumble bee threatens to hold up a major upgrade to a hazardous stretch of Highway 5 in suburban Carver County. And bureaucratic obstacles at the federal agency responsible for assessing the problem only add to the uncertainty, inevitably driving up costs for county planners anxious to begin the project.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the pollinator to the list of endangered species in 2017.

As is true with many imperiled species, a number of factors played a role in the recent decline of the rusty patch. Disease and pathogens from commercially bred bumble bees, pesticide use, effects of climate change and loss of habitat likely all contributed to the decline, and now, with low population numbers, these threats are especially concerning.

The construction area runs along the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, a home to the species, the only bee on the Endangered Species List. That requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study the potential impact and sign off on a mitigation plan. But Southwest Media found there’s no telling when the agency will be able to get to the project.

A delay in the highway project could be caused by a delay in having that joint meeting because of a shortage of USFWS staff and a large number of other project requests it has across the country, [deputy Carver County engineer Darin] Mielke said.

“That’s the delay that was discussed at the (Victoria City Council Feb. 12) meeting, and that delay may push us well beyond when we want to be constructing,” he said, adding that project officials are meeting with state Department of Transportation and other officials “to try and speed the timeframe up.”

How long is the delay expected to be? “There was talk that it would be potentially a year before they (USFWS) could even get to it,” Mielke said. “If it’s a year, it would push our entire project out about the same amount of time.”

Further complicating matters, it’s the first time the species has been discovered in the path of a project in Minnesota. The reality is the bureaucratic hoops to develop a plan could slow things down more than the mitigation efforts to limit the impact on bees.

“This ‘adverse affect’ is the initial determination, so now we have to go through the formal process of determining what the impacts are or may be, and then what steps the project will do to help mitigate the impact,” he added.

Project officials will be enlisting the services of “experts” connected with the arboretum who have knowledge about bees and could help with the mitigation process, Mielke said.

“There’s not a lot out there as far as what we need to do as far as mitigation,” he said. “This work will aid other projects which may encounter the same issue with the bee.”

The Highway 5 construction project to Victoria was slated to start in late 2025 and last two years. But it’s anyone’s guess when USFWS will find the time and personnel to give the long-anticipated project the green light.