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Osprey nest in crane vexes contractor at Port of Tampa

TAMPA — Setting out to do a job expected to take only a few days, a salvage crew spotted trouble last week when a bird swirled menacingly around its gear.

Atop the crew's crane, ospreys had built a nest and had chicks.

Marine contractor and crane owner Jani Salonen wanted to do the right thing. But in trying, he's had to continue paying his idled crew and renting a barge that can't move, while exposing a bureaucratic conundrum and involving Congress.

On Monday, he estimated the week's delay had cost him $20,000. And the ospreys were still nesting on his crane.

"Everybody is trying to do the best they can by the birds," Salonen said.

Under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to transport protected birds or their nests without permission. Osprey are among the more than 1,000 species that receive such federal protection.

Salonen hopes to move the nest at the Port of Tampa from its current spot on his crane to the nearby shrimp docks.

Working with the National Audubon Society, he had a platform installed at the top of an old utility pole there.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission signed off on the relocation.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied his permit. The federal agency said the nest wasn't causing property damage.

So for much of Monday, Salonen waited to see if the federal government would reverse its decision. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is advocating on his behalf, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson may step in.

Salonen's crew had arrived to work with the crane April 4 and noticed the nest after one of the adult birds became aggressive.

The chicks likely hatched two or three weeks ago, but no one can be sure because the crane has been there since Feb. 11.

Salonen said he made dozens of calls in the days that followed, trying to find whoever could give him permission to and assistance in relocating the nest.

He said he wasn't getting anywhere until the Audubon Society stepped in.

"They found the doors that actually seemed to open," he said.

Barb Walker, a member of the Clearwater chapter, helped him obtain the state permit. But even she was unsure what to do after the federal government refused.

"I don't think any of us want to end up in court," she said.

Moving an osprey nest without permission could result in a hefty fine and even jail time.

Salonen's crew was scheduled to spend two or three days last week near MacDill Air Force Base excavating an old barge. Then the crew would have gone to Cedar Key to salvage a dry dock that sank 10 miles offshore.

Instead, the workers ferried Audubon Society volunteers around the bay to get a better look at the osprey nest and take pictures of the chicks.

By Monday afternoon, Walker had decided the federal government's regulations didn't address situations like Salonen's.

She concluded the state permit and the Audubon Society's support was enough to move forward with the nest relocation.

"I don't think we're going to hold this up anymore," she said. "This is enough."

Salonen, whose company is based in the Jacksonville area, decided to stay in Tampa another day. He is hopeful the nest will be removed and his crane back in operation some time today.

Salonen had noted that an unscrupulous business owner might have dumped the nest in the bay and hoped no one was looking. He said he didn't regret doing the right thing for the birds, but hoped it wouldn't cost him too much more money.

"You don't deal with this every day," Salonen said. "I hope I don't have to deal with this ever again."

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

Osprey nest in crane vexes contractor at Port of Tampa 04/11/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 7:11pm]
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