The federal government is proposing nearly $3 million in fines against the city of Birmingham, Ala., over an incident that officials say was one of the largest fish kills in the history of the Endangered Species Act.
The penalty, proposed Thursday, stems from a 2008 accident in which a city maintenance crew breached a dam and drained a spring pool containing one of the world's largest populations of the small, endangered watercress darter. Scientists estimated that 12,000 were killed, more than half of the pool's population of about 20,000.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the city initially cooperated with efforts to restore and protect the darter's habitat but has declined to address other threats posed by city facilities. Those include pollution from surrounding streets, storm sewers, parking lots and a golf course.
A city spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Fish and Wildlife Service said the city has several options for responding, including contesting the penalty or seeking negotiations for protecting the fish.
The watercress darter — a thin, colorful fish about two inches long at maturity — lives among aquatic vegetation in shallow springs. It is considered on the brink of extinction, and its only known habitats are a handful of springs in the Birmingham area.
(This version CORRECTS to show that 12,000 is half of the pool's population, not global population.)
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