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Judge halts condo work to protect beach mouse

MOBILE (AP) — A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against construction of the 40-acre Beach Club West condo development at Fort Morgan, ruling in favor of protecting the endangered Alabama beach mouse.

U.S. District Judge William Steele in Mobile ruled Thursday only hours before bulldozers were set to begin moving over sand dunes and mouse burrows.

Steele wrote that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's argument that the development would not impact the survival of the mouse species was "akin to concluding that an inadequate food supply is rendered insignificant by an excess of shelter."

Environmentalists filed suit to stop the condo project by Fort Morgan Paradise Joint Venture and Gulf Highlands, LLC. Steele's order halts construction until a trial is scheduled later this year.

The tiny Alabama beach mouse has been on the federal Endangered Species List since 1985. The Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the suit.

The groups contend that the development would destroy 18 percent of the 128 acres left on Fort Morgan peninsula that are high enough to protect the mice during severe hurricane storm surges.

"I think this is essentially a verdict for common sense," Robert Wiygul, an attorney for the environmentalists, told the Press-Register for a story Friday. "To take away that big a chunk of land this species needs to survive a hurricane is obviously going to have an impact and needs to be addressed."

Eddie Briggs, a lawyer for the developers, said he's disappointed at the court's ruling.

"We've been working on this for five years and have taken unprecedented measures to ensure the continued longevity of the beach mouse," he said.

Briggs noted that the project has been delayed for years by beach mouse concerns. "We feel strongly now that this borders on the taking of our property without compensation," he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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