VICKSBURG, Mich. — Environmental Researchers found a rare and endangered species of mussel in Portage Creek during restoration work at the former paper mill property in Vicksburg.
Jackie Koney is the chief operations officer for Paper City Development, owners of The Mill at Vicksburg. She said developers hired the researchers to scour the creek to see if there was anything in it developers should be aware of.
"And in the very last scoop that they picked up they said 'I think we've got something here,'" Koney said.
She said they turned the sample into a laboratory and found out there were snuffbox mussels in the creek. The snuffbox mussel is a native mussel species to eastern North America, and is listed as an endangered species in both the United States and Canada.
"My team didn’t know anything about them, but the environmental scientists are pretty stoked about this, so we’re giving it the proper attention,” Koney said. "We're very excited about finding this endangered species."
In a written statement, environmental researchers said the total population of snuffbox mussel was unknown, but the freshwater species was so unique they were surveying 1,800 feet of Portage Creek's length to determine whether it could be improved as a conservation habitat.
Koney said the teams will do a "more thorough survey and try and find out how many (mussels) we have and try and to make sure if we remediate the creek, how could we do it safely for the creek and for the mussels."
Marty Boote, senior scientist at Environmental Consulting & Technology Inc., was leading the effort to survey the creek. He said the discovery of the mussel population was important for conservation efforts because they were the dominant species in Portage Creek.
Leaders of The Mill at Vicksburg planned to discuss the next course of action once the survey was completed, including whether to seek grant money to help restore the creek's habitat.
Right now, Koney said they will most likely try and move the mussels to a new, temporary location while they dredge the creek.
"We would have to move the snuffbox mussel somewhere else to keep them protected and safe," Koney said, "and then we'd bring them back into the creek after we're done with the remediation."
This is a tentative plan and Koney said that environmental researchers and developers are still looking to all the options for protecting the mussels. If they do decide to move the mussels into a temporary home, they will have to make sure they don't damage.
Koney said that the creek is an import part of the Vicksburg community and The Mill at Vicksburg project.
"We want this project to have a long lasting impact, we're looking at this two hundred years from now. It's long beyond our lifetimes and we definitely, the creek is an important part of this community," Koney said. "We can envision celebrating this find for years to come.
Koney said another species of mussel, the rounded pigtoe mussel was found as well. She says the rounded pigtoe mussel wasn't considered endangered, but is on the federal watch list.
Koney she doesn't anticipate that finding or protecting the snuffbox mussel will cause any delay in construction at this time.