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Tortoise Trouble

Article-Tortoise Trouble

Advanced Disposal digs deep to relocate threatened gopher tortoises.

Any company that has ever sited a landfill knows community relations can be a dicey proposition. Dealing with wary humans is challenging enough, but Jacksonville, Fla.-based Advanced Disposal inherited another headache entirely when it discovered colonies of threatened gopher tortoises dug in on its property in Washington County, Ala., (north of Mobile), slated to become the Turkey Trot Landfill.

"We estimated that there were three different colonies in the footprint of the property that we were looking at," says Gerald Allen, Advanced Disposal's vice president of landfills. "What we ended up having to do is move the ones that fell in our 300-acre footprint of the landfill, which consisted of 55 adults and 21 juveniles."

The hardest part of the process, says Allen, was locating a suitable relocation spot. Gopher tortoises require unique habitat to survive, including dry, sandy soil, tree stands and plenty of food. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other regulatory agencies imposed a number or additional requirements that had to be met before they would approve the move. Ultimately, suitable land was found 30 miles away at a preserve owned by South Alabama Utilities.

Mary O'Brien, Advanced Disposal's chief marketing officer, says the company knew it wanted to film the relocation. "We just wanted to be able to show everybody, whether it's a school classroom or an environmental regulator, the efforts we go through to protect the environment, and the state-of-the-art features that go into developing and constructing a landfill," she says.

A local video production company and photographer were hired to shoot the move and Environmental Services Inc. was hired to move the tortoises. Workers used PVC pipe to feel their way through the burrow tunnels. A carefully operated backhoe was used to dig the tortoises out. Before being released to their new home, the tortoises were tested for upper respiratory tract disease (URDS).

"We had one tortoise who we like to think of as our 'star'," says Katrine Strickland, marketing manager for Advanced Disposal and the film's producer and director. "He was a natural on camera, walking around for several minutes, which allowed us to get some great footage. The scientists were shocked at how lively he was as they generally are shy creatures."

The film can be viewed at www.advanceddisposal.com.