Caltrans will remove nets from Petaluma highway project

Caltrans is implementing new measures to protect birds during construction on Highway 101 in Petaluma, officials announced Thursday.

The agency came under fire last year when contractors installed netting under the Petaluma River bridge and Highway 116 overpass designed to keep migratory cliff swallows from nesting in the construction zone. The netting entangled the birds, killing dozens during the nesting season.

Environmental groups sued Caltrans saying that the environmental impact report did not address the colony of cliff swallows, a federally protected species that has traditionally nested under the Petaluma River bridge from March until August.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, inserted a provision into the state budget requiring Caltrans to do more public outreach and detail its efforts to protect birds during the $130 million highway widening project.

"We all agree that the events of last year were avoidable," Levine said in a statement. "This is an opportunity to proactively address an important issue and ensure that this essential transportation project is able to proceed without harming wildlife that is so special to our region."

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