Yesterday, Caltrans announced its plans to protect a colony of cliff swallows that build their nests under the Petaluma River bridge. Readers may recall that Caltrans and its contractor was accused of killing dozens of cliff swallows last year during construction to widen the Highway 101 bridges over the Petaluma River and Highway 116. The nets that the contractors installed to keep the migratory birds away from the construction zone actually entangled and killed them.
Environmentalists filed a law suit and sought to stop construction while the bird issue was studied. A temporary injunction was denied, but the law suit continues in federal court. Meanwhile, construction on the bridges is about to enter a second nesting season. The cliff swallows winter in Argentina and return to the same spot each March to build nests.
Instead of nets, Caltrans will install plastic sheeting to keep birds out of the construction zone. The agency will hire environmental consultants to monitor the project, and they will leave part of the bridge outside of the construction zone available for nesting.