Environmental group threatens to sue over Mazda Toyota plant construction

An environmental group that has worked to protect a threatened Limestone County fish from a massive auto manufacturing plant says it now intends to sue.

The Center for Biological Diversity sent a 60-day notice to Huntsville and Mazda Toyota officials Wednesday stating they would sue them for violating Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act if a plan wasn't put in place to protect the spring pygmy sunfish.

Mazda Toyota resumed construction Tuesday on a $1.6 billion manufacturing plant in a Huntsville-annexed portion of eastern Limestone County. Work had been halted while the company and environmental experts to ensure the habitat of the spring pygmy sunfish was protected during construction. The fish is only found in Limestone County and is common in the Beaverdam Creek area, according to a state study. The fish is federally listed as a threatened species.

Spring Pygmy Sunfish (Courtesy: J.R. Shute, Conservative Fisheries, Inc.

A Center for Biological Diversity attorney said Tuesday they did not believe Mazda Toyota was doing enough to ensure the spring pygmy sunfish was being protected. A Toyota spokeswoman said the company has determined that work on the site will not harm the fish.

In the notice sent Wednesday, the center claimed construction of roofs, pavement and roads around the plant will impair water quality and increase storm water runoff that would contaminate the springs where fish lives.

If Mazda Toyota and the city don't change their plans and prepare a habitat conservation plan to accommodate the Endangered Species Act within 60 days, the center plans to sue in federal court to protect the fish's environment.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Toyota Motor North America spokeswoman Kim Ogle said in addition to meeting with the Center for Biological Diversity last week, independent environmental experts have looked at the city's project design and determined it protects the fish.

"We are confident that the pygmy fish and its habitat will be adequately protected, and we are ready to move forward," the statement read.

The city of Huntsville also sent out a statement Wednesday afternoon stating that work has been underway to preserve and sustain the fish's habitat for almost 10 years.

"The Spring Pygmy Sunfish environment is better today than when the City of Huntsville purchased the property and better than it has been in the last fifty years when it was a farming operation," the city's statement read. "The aquifer is protected. We remain confident the designed plan to protect the environment is sound."