- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Taxpayer costs are soaring for a new Austin habitat for an endangered salamander that calls one of the most popular swimming pools in Texas home.

Trying to show the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that Austin is serious about protecting the tiny Barton Springs salamander that has been endangered since 1997, the city wants to build a roughly $1.7 million new habitat that costs five times more than original estimates.

The price tag has climbed to roughly $7,000 a square foot because of the sensitive nature of the area, city officials told the Austin American-Statesman (http://atxne.ws/29aRgRo ). But some city budget watchers are dubious.

Barton Springs draws nearly 600,000 visitors a year and is where actor Robert Redford learned to swim as a young boy. The project would unearth a small stream between Barton Springs and Eliza Springs - where about 300 of the salamanders live - as part of a wider deal with federal officials.

“The increase in cost is something that did give us some concern, but we still think we’re doing the right thing,” said Chris Herrington, an Austin environmental scientist overseeing the project.

Dani Tristan, a commercial real estate broker who works on Barton Springs Road near the pool, isn’t so sure.

“I’d rather see us spend half a million in breeding them or growing them than creating a thing that may or may not work,” Tristan said. “If we want to keep them alive, let’s throw them in a tank and put some Viagra in there and see what happens.”

The city has promised to improve conditions for the Barton Springs salamander and the Austin blind salamander so that people can continue to swim in the iconic pool, which is a habitat for the endangered species. Construction is due to begin in the fall and will not interrupt swimming at Barton Springs.

The City Council could make a final decision on the project by late summer. The project should be completed by March.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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