A tiny endangered fish is holding up big plans in Huntsville.
Toyota officials announced Thursday, that a lawsuit overs the spring pygmy sunfish — a small freshwater fish known from only one spring complex in the Tennessee River watershed. It is so rare that it was twice thought to be extinct — has halted construction on the new Toyota-Mazda plant in the Rocket City.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity explains the fish, which measures about 1 inch or less in length and received status as an endangered species in 2013, was never designated a critical habitat. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is legally obligation to do one year after a species is labeled as endangered.
The suit claims the last remaining habitat for the fish, which now only lives in a space measuring six stream miles near the Beaverdam Spring and Creek watershed, is at risk of being destroyed with the plans to build the automotive plant on the existing habitat.
“We won’t let this rare fish wait any longer for the habitat protections it’s guaranteed under the Endangered Species Act,” said Elise Bennett, an attorney at the Center. “Reckless development has already sent this little fish diving toward the brink of extinction. The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to protect the sunfish’s habitat immediately before this massive manufacturing plant destroys what’s left of it.”
In January, Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. announced plans to build a massive automobile manufacturing plant in Huntsville, adjacent to the Beaverdam Spring Complex. Set to open in 2021 the plant is expected to produce 300,000 vehicles a year, and employ up to 4,000 people.
“This is a short-term suspension that reflects a shared goal of environmental preservation by Mazda, Toyota and the city of Huntsville,” according to the city’s statement. “Crews anticipate construction to resume shortly with minimal disruption.”