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Editorial: Tappan Zee sturgeon in good hands

Kristen Marcell, an outreach support specialist with the

Kristen Marcell, an outreach support specialist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, holds an Atlantic sturgeon afloat as the fish gets used to the water of the Hudson River. (2004) Photo Credit: AP

The plight of the Atlantic sturgeon -- once so prized for their caviar and plentiful in the Hudson Valley they were called "Albany beef" -- can't be tossed overboard as a casualty of replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Unrealized fears and nostalgia, however, shouldn't endanger one of the largest infrastructure projects in the country. Not when more than $88 million has already been spent on studies, including on all sorts of habitat issues, over a decade.

It's hard to imagine how a $5-billion-plus capital project in the middle of the Hudson River wouldn't affect the environment -- or any number of fish that swim through those waters to spawn. But New York can both build a new bridge and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

The damage to the Atlantic sturgeon -- endangered since 2012 -- has been a century in the making because of overfishing and river pollution. Only in recent years have efforts been made to protect a fish that has long been part of Hudson lore.

The environmental organization Riverkeeper fears that dredging and the noise of pile-driving could hurt the fish and prevent them from traveling the river during spawning season. Too little is known and the group says Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is doing a rush-job on this new span.

But safeguards are in place to limit harm to the sturgeon. They include imposing a three-month limit on dredging -- from August to November -- installing underwater sound barriers and silt curtains, and having an on-site marine biologist, a fish-watcher, among other protections.

The National Marine Fisheries Service concluded earlier this year that the project would not likely jeopardize the shortnose or Atlantic sturgeon. And the U.S. Department of Transportation last month signed off on the environmental review.

Riverkeeper wants more studies and it has hinted at a lawsuit. But it's clear the organization is swimming upstream on this issue.

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