CRESTVIEW — Six gopher tortoises have relocated from the city's waste water treatment plant on Arena Road to Nokuse Plantation in Freeport following a $6 million water system overhaul.
Three females, two males and one juvenile gopher tortoise were relocated to the 51,000-acre plantation to make room for an ongoing expansion at the plant.
"We are adding five rapid infiltration basins” to keep up with the city’s growth, Jayne Swift, the plant’s project manager, said.
The basins will help the plant manage treated water as it is released back into the soil and into Florida's aquifer, which further purifies it.
Morgan Contracting in Baker is adding the basins as part of the renovations to the CH2MHILL-operated facility. Other additions include new pumps and a new chlorine basin that also treats the water. The project should be finished by summer 2014.
"We signed a contract with the city in February (of this year)," said Mike Tucker, the contractor’s project manager. "Part of that contract was bringing on a biologist for the relocation of the tortoises."
"They originally thought there was only three nesting burrows, but there were 10," Tucker said.
Morgan Contracting contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which suggested Nokuse Plantation in Freeport.
The plantation specializes in preserving, restoring and conserving Florida's eco-system by maintaining natural woodlands.
A team from the plantation found the tortoise burrows while surveying the land. Members brought a backhoe loader and shovels to retrieve the reptiles.
"We are going to keep them in an enclosed space for about a year," plantation director Matt Aresco said.
Later, the enclosure will be removed, allowing the gophers to roam freely within the plantation.
In Florida, gopher tortoises are "threatened" on the state's endangered species list.
State law protects gopher tortoises and their burrows, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife website, myfwc.com.
Property owners must receive the FWC’s permission to capture and relocate the fragile reptiles.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.