Editor's note: This column was written as a personal response to the story "Mindful mitigation: Environmental impact of the Susquehanna Thruway." Read that piece first by clicking here.
I live along the Penns Creek near the wetlands mentioned in our story about the environmental impact of the Central Susquehanna Thruway, and I never realized it was created as part of the greater thruway project.
Those wetlands include an eagle nest I enjoyed earlier this spring when the leaves were more sparse -- a sight that helped inspire my final decision to accept the role as the new Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper. You can read that story by clicking here.
Considering all that, a comment from the Greater Susquehanna Chamber of Commerce president and Leave No Trace instructor Bob Garrett about the Central Susquehanna Thruway about this project being in our backyard resonates deeply with me -- especially as the southern section of the project will be advancing along a portion of the Penns Creek not too far from my home.
From the first moments they started knocking down trees for the northern section interchange with Route 15, it was apparent that this project was going to be massive. Habitat has been changed permanently and more will be following suit. Those who are plugged into the fragility of our ecosystem know that sometimes even the smallest of change can cause an overlapping long-term ripple effect within our environment.
For quite some time, I wanted to share the story of what steps officials are taking to protect the environment as the thruway construction continues. The mitigation efforts, the mindfulness of working around threatened species, the caution of planning and adapting when unexpected environmental issues (such as acidic rock formations) pop up all is very admirable.
Do we need the thruway? What impact will it have on local commerce and quality of life? Those are questions well out of my wheelhouse and above my pay grade. I have known Bob Garrett for a very long time. He is a friend and true champion of our outdoor resources -- and much more suited to those sort of questions than I'll ever be.
We know, however, that the environment will be impacted well beyond the elements addressed via current mitigation efforts. One example? As local falconer Mike Dupuy shared recently:
“All roads present hazards and opportunities for raptors. They have not evolved to comprehend or calculate the velocity of moving traffic as they hyper focus on catching prey. Collisions with motor vehicles is probably on par with bird window strikes and feral cats for killing all sorts of birds.”
Easier access to our natural resources thanks to the thruway offers a variety of positives, but it also means a potential increase in litter, vehicular fluids and other threats for the river and its tributaries.
How do we move forward? By working together. By taking Bob Garrett's full statement in the recent story about the environmental impact of the Thruway to heart -- this is in our collective backyards. We get to watch it unfold. We have the opportunity -- and obligation -- to be actively involved.
One avenue to stay on top of it all is via the stunning collection of aerial photos and videos provided on Facebook by Brian Benfer on his page "Brian's Susquehanna Thruway Project." He graciously allowed me to use his images in the environmental impact story. Check it out and follow his adventures by clicking here.
Moving forward, if you come across specific environmental issues connected with the thruway project when it comes to our river or network of connecting tributaries, don't hesitate to reach out to me and share your observations. You can call directly at 570-768-6300 or send an email.
I will follow up by contacting the appropriate officials and help develop a way we can build on the efforts by PennDOT and other agencies to work together to make sure our resources are as safe as possible.
In the meantime, for those who want to step up in a more meaningful way, we encourage everyone to take our Susquehanna Survey, which helps pinpoint issues and gives us important feedback in efforts to protect and promote our river-based resources. We also are looking to build up our team of volunteer Susquehanna Stewards.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.