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St. Cloud gets needed funding to restore once-popular bat cave

The funding will also help prevent against erosion in the future.
The stormwater sewer in the Highlands Ravine in St. Cloud. 

The stormwater sewer in the Highlands Ravine in St. Cloud. 

The City of St. Cloud is planning to return a century-old stormwater sewer to the popular bat habitat it once was, which could help the struggling bat population in the state.  

The 1920s-era brick-and-mortar stormwater tunnel in the area of the Highbanks Ravine, located east of 3rd Avenue South between Highbanks Place South and 4th Street South in St. Cloud, is the primary storm sewer for the area. But as the city has grown, stormwater runoff has filled to the top of the tunnel, forcing the thousands of bats that have hibernated there for decades to move out or drown. 

The dated storm sewer has also led to erosion issues in the ravine, which threatens nearby property owners. 

So, the City of St. Cloud came up with a plan is to stabilize erosion in the area and build a new storm sewer, rerouting stormwater from the tunnel the bats used to call home. 

The project will cost about $3.5 million, the city said, and on Tuesday, it was awarded a large piece of the needed funding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded $2.36 million to the city for its ravine stabilization project as part of the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. 

The federal funds will be used to establish a new water outlet to the Mississippi River and prevent excessive stormwater runoff from flowing into the ravine. This will "significantly reduce erosion in the area" and allow the original tunnel to provide a habitable environment for bats to hibernate during the winter, FEMA said in a news release

The city also sought money from the state of Minnesota, with the St. Cloud Times reporting it has received $800,000 from the state. St. Cloud Public Utilities Director Lisa Vollbrecht told the paper in May that if they secured the funding from the federal government, they could start the project next construction season. 

This is good news for Minnesota's bats and efforts to restore the bat colony that once lived in the ravine. 

That's because the tunnel hasn't been contaminated by white-nose syndrome, a disease that has caused populations of hibernating bats to decline 80-94% at several locations in Minnesota, the Minnesota DNR says

Bat populations in the state have been ravaged by the disease, which is caused by a fungus. Researchers believe it makes bats wake up during the winter, which essentially causes them to starve to death, the DNR says. 

White-nose syndrome was first discovered in Minnesota in 2011-2012 and has been found in at least 15 counties, the DNR says. The syndrome primarily affects the four species of bats that hibernate in Minnesota during the winter: the little brown bat, the Northern long-eared bat, the tricolored bat and the big brown bat.

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