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Picture state Department of Transportation engineers dumping steelhead trout in buckets and carrying them upstream because erosion had eaten away the habitat, making it impossible for the fish to spawn.

That is part of the new kinder, gentler DOT that has made "environmentally sound" part of its mission.

"In the '80s, there was a lot of talk about permits. In the '90s, we talked about mitigation. It's 2000, and we're into stewardship," said Shelah LaDuc, manager of the Regional Landscape Architect/Environmental Services Unit for the DOT. "Our mission changed."

She said state transportation officials realize projects have a great impact on communities.

The first project completed under the initiative, which is about two years old, was the improvement to Spooner Creek off Route 39 in Concord. A storm had washed away rocks by the culvert and heavily damaged the stream, making it impossible for fish to swim upstream to spawn.

The DOT, in coordination with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, designed a fish ladder. But before that, the DOT helped the DEC assist the fish upstream.

"If you can imagine, two years ago, us paying our engineers to run fish up a culvert, that just wouldn't have happened," LaDuc said. "The damage wasn't to the road or the culvert. The damage was to the stream."

"This was something out of the ordinary for us," said David Tackley, the DOT's regional environmental contact.

LaDuc said local officials from the Southtowns were the first town and village officials in the county to hear about the DOT's environment initiative during a meeting Monday night of the Southtowns Planning and Development Group at Orsini's Ristorante in East Concord.

"It was interesting. I didn't know they'd work with us," said Colden Supervisor Marilynn Calhoun. She said the state will be making improvements to Route 240 through the town in several years, and the town would like some input into design issues such as sidewalks and bridges.

Holland Supervisor Gordon Hessel Jr. said his town has had a Route 16 committee talking about the same types of issues for Route 16 reconstruction.

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