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Cost to Relocate Landfill Beetle Bugs Officials

REMOVING a bug - from where it wants to be to where one would prefer it to be - is usually a matter of a paper cup and a gentle nudge of the finger. But Fort Smith, Ark. city officials are finding that insect ``relocation'' is not always so simple - or inexpensive - a task.

At a cost of about $11,000 per insect so far, seven burying beetles classified as endangered have been moved from a planned landfill site to neighboring fields less than a mile away - an exorbitant effort, some officials claim.

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``I can live with mandates that accomplish something useful,'' says Carter Hunt, a Fort Smith city director. ``If we were talking about something of greater importance to man, I'd go along with it.'' Forcing local governments to comply with federal mandates without monetary assistance is unfair, Mr. Hunt says.

``If we were dealing with a larger mammal, there wouldn't be as many questions about the justification for spending money,'' says Chris Carlton, a research assistant at the University of Arkansas Department of Entomology.

Mr. Carlton, who has studied the inch-long red-spotted insects for several years and did research for the relocation project, says the burying beetles need to be treated in the same manner as other more ``popular'' species, such as the spotted owl. ``Are we committed to the preservation of the various divisions of fauna, or not?'' he asks.

Under the Endangered Species Act, government laws gave the city the choice of moving the landfill - or the beetles. These insects are recognized by the federal government as endangered, says David Flemming, a spokesman for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, so the city was required to file for a permit to handle the beetles.

Over the past five months, 178 traps have been placed to attract the beetles. While looking for food, they fall into the smooth plastic cones unharmed and then are taken away.

The burying beetles, found elsewhere only on Block Island, R.I., and near the Platte River in Nebraska, seem to thrive in a small area of western Arkansas where the landfill is planned.

The beetle relocation will be financed by a change in garbage collection rates - about $1.45 more per house each month, assistant director for community services Dan Reikes says. At an estimated cost of $6 million for constructing the site, the price of moving beetles - $78,618 to begin, and an additional $10,000 per year - may seem small. But Hunt says the cost to residents is not insignificant - as much as a quarter of a million dollars over the next 20 years. ``I don't think it makes very much sense,'' he says.

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``We needed to do something to mitigate the impact [on the beetles], but the extent we went to was overkill,'' Mr. Reikes says.

The opening of the 400-acre landfill and closing of the adjacent 100-acre landfill are scheduled for October. The city plans to use some of the existing roads and offices - a factor that encouraged the city to pursue the site, regardless of the burying beetle habitat.

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