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Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 12:46pm

Manatee Protection Sought In Bridge Work

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are urging road builders to take the lumbering manatee into account when they build a new bridge linking Georgia and South Carolina.

Construction on a U.S. Highway 17 bridge coming into Savannah isn't expected to harm the federally protected species.

But wildlife officals want the states to take steps to protect them.

The agency's Mark Caldwell says, the main concern is making workers aware of the 1,000 pound mammal.

"When you have a project such as this size you're going to have a lot of equipment, a lot of people in the water, a lot of boats and barges in the water, and the manatees in the water as well," Caldwell says. "You're increasing the chances of collision."

The manatee isn't native to Georgia or South Carolina but sometimes swims through the area, especially in summer.

Under a federal permit, equipment would be shut down if a manatee is spotted within 50 feet.

Caldwell says, projects this size need preventative measures in place.

"When the water tends to warm up, manatees will migrate up into the Georgia coast, South Carolina coast, North Carolina on over to Virginia," Caldwell says. "Any kind of bridge, particularly along the coast, we're going to request that these conditions be placed any permit."

No manatee has been killed because of construction in Georgia in the last 20 years.

The existing 58-year-old bridge over a branch of the Savannah River is safe for drivers but will be demolished in $16 million renewal project.