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Threatened gopher tortoises to be relocated to make way for Wekiva Trail

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SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - An expensive predicament is lurking under the new route for the Wekiva Trail.

Seminole County just found out more than 150 gopher tortoise nests are along nearly 3 miles of the planned extension.

Construction would extend the trail from Altamonte Springs to the Orange County line near Bear Lake Road and Maitland Boulevard.

Saving the threatened gopher tortoises could cost taxpayers about $200,000 to relocate them.

When Seminole County resident Julian Ross bikes the Wekiva Trail, he often spots gopher tortoises strolling nearby.

"Typically I will see a half a dozen, you know, mommies and daddies, whatever, sometimes they will (be) crossing the trail," Ross said.

There are so many tortoises, taxpayers must pay before Seminole County can extend the Wekiva Trail from Altamonte Springs to Maitland Boulevard.

Amy Daley of CPH Engineers is in charge of finding the tortoises a new home.

"The tortoise likes to keep the burrow clean so it will shove out sand," Daley said.

"Why is it so important to relocate them instead of just moving them aside?" asked Channel 9's Tim Barber.

"Well according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Conservation regulations, gopher tortoises are a threatened species here in the state of Florida," Daley said.

Workers will use backhoes to excavate the burrows in areas where there is more space. In areas near power poles, they will use a bucket to trap the tortoise.

County officials don't believe any of that will delay the $2 million trail project expected to start later this summer.

Ross said as long as that's the case, he doesn't mind helping pick up the tab to save his little trail mates.

"To spend the money to move them, do I have a problem with that? No," Ross said.

Daley says the gopher tortoises are going to rescue centers in Sumter and Okeechobee counties.