Toyota and Mazda picked Huntsville, Alabama for their new $1.6 billion joint manufacturing plant earlier this year, but it didn’t take long for objections to roll in. The issue of the plant’s potential to push a fish species to extinction was raised in June, and the companies agreed, months later, to spend $6 million on protecting it.
The Center for Biological Diversity, which filed a lawsuit on June 11 against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announced an agreement on Thursday for Toyota and Mazda to pay $6 million to protect the spring pygmy sunfish, a small fish species native to Alabama that lives near the new plant. The investment from Mazda Toyota Manufacturing will go into protecting at least 1,100 acres where the fish lives, and means the land will “be protected in its natural state and restricted to low-impact uses,” according to the center.
The plant is under construction, and the agreement splits the money into two investments. One investment is $4 million into “future conservation projects” for the fish species, “including habitat restoration, captive propagation, genetic studies and reintroduction efforts.” The other part is $2 million into immediate habitat restoration and monitoring.
The full agreement between the center and automakers is here.
All of this comes after the center took legal action against the Fish and Wildlife Service, and never directly mentioned the automakers’ new plant in the lawsuit. Toyota and Mazda weren’t sued then, but the center published an intent to sue the automakers and City of Huntsville in July over plant construction—around the time prep work was temporarily halted on the plant, which is scheduled to employ 4,000 people and produce up to 300,000 vehicles each year.
The Fish and Wildlife Service lawsuit was over its alleged failure to comply with parts of the Endangered Species Act in regards to the sunfish, meaning the fish lacked legal protections it and its habitat should have had. The lawsuit said the fish used to live in three Alabama natural spring systems before that dwindled to one, and that efforts to reintroduce it to old habitats didn’t work. That means this last habitat near the plant is particularly important to its survival.
But the fish will have $6 million worth of current and future protection now, at least, and hopefully won’t have to die at the hands of shiny new cars.