Dredgers will continue surveying

PITTSBURGH — As a legal showdown with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania loomed, three river dredgers dropped their appeal of tough new permitting requirements on western Pennsylvania rivers.

 That means Tri-State River Products Inc., Hanson Aggregates PMA Inc. and Glacial Sand & Gravel Co. have agreed to proceed with surveying for rare fish where they dredge the Allegheny and Ohio rivers.

 The companies already are required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — the federal permitting agency — to sample for mussels.

 The discovery of rare mussels during dredging several years ago prompted the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to make fish sampling a condition of state permits. Dredgers sued the DEP in response but backed down on the eve of their Sept. 8 appearance before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board.

 "It's a victory for the fish," said John Arway, environmental director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which helped the DEP construct the dredging permit.

 "Now we'll get the information we need to do a risk analysis for future permits."

 The commission is conducting more extensive surveys of the rivers so it can compare the dredgers' findings with its own. Both the dredgers and the commission are using a state-of-the-art benthic trawl technique that enables surveyors to get into areas of the river previously unexplored.

 "We found river darters on the Ohio and glass shrimp on the Monongahela using the benthic trawls," said Arway. "We are going to determine whether these species should be listed [as threatened or endangered]."

 Arway expects more surprises.

 "As we get more experienced with benthic trawling, we'll discover things we didn't think we'd discover," he said.

 "The same thing happened with the mussels. When dredgers did [their original] surveys, they didn't find any. But when they started doing diving surveys, they found the rare northern riffle shell and club shell mussels. We expect the same thing will happen with fish."

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