Erosion from new bridge may harm salmon

Posted: Monday, July 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State officials say a bridge built near Petersville with federal river restoration funds was so poorly constructed that it threatens the Cottonwood Creek salmon habitat it's supposed to preserve.

The man who built the bridge, a logger who wanted access to a timber stand, disagrees that he caused erosion problems but has offered to give back an $18,000 federal grant he received to install the span.

Charles Nash said he did the best he could installing the 40-foot steel span last winter, driving pilings 20 to 30 feet through snow and into the ground.

He said he spent $100,000 for the bridge and built seven miles of new road that replaced a rutted four-wheeler trail residents previously relied on.

Only a handful of people live year-round in the remote area about 75 miles northwest of Wasilla, but hundreds more own recreational cabins and homes. The bridge is aimed at keeping four-wheelers and other vehicles from fording the stream.

The work was funded through the national Partners in Wildlife program, which gives money to private landowners and other people for habitat restoration projects, said Mike Roy, who oversees the program in Alaska for the fish and wildlife service.

The voluntary program has funded more than 200 projects in Alaska, including dozens along the Kenai River, he said.

Critics say Nash cleared trees and brush from the banks and put in the bridge with no erosion control.

The span is too short and steel pilings supporting are too close to the bank, said Anita Goetz, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.

The bank under the bridge is already collapsing, she said, noting a 2-foot-long vertical crack between two pilings. Additional work, including revegetation and bank stabilization, has yet to be done.

Goetz said the best solution is to move or replace the bridge. Others want a less expensive solution.

''Cost is an issue,'' said Kelly Ladere, a borough assemblywoman who represents the area and is president of the Upper Susitna Soil and Water Conservation District, which solicited money for the work.

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