North Pole gets bridges to protect fish habitat

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2001

NORTH POLE (AP) -- Three bridges housed at a Park & Sell lot on Badger Road have sparked the curiosity of passersby, with several inquiries as to whether the bridges are for sale.

The answer is a resounding ''no'', says Elaine Gross, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northern Alaska Ecological Service.

Gross spearheaded the purchase of the bridges so they can be placed in three locations where clogged culverts have backed up sloughs and all but stopped fish passage.

With funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Gross was able to buy the bridges from a timber project on Montague Island near Cordova.

The bridges were barged to Valdez, then brought on trucks to North Pole. Moving the 46,000-pound bridges cost $11,000.

Gross says the bridges will be placed at three sites with undersized culverts.

The bridges, each 42 feet long and 18 feet wide, are now one-lane structures, but timbers will be added to make them two lanes.

Gross was inspired to get involved in slough improvement after viewing the problem firsthand with Nancy Ihlenfeldt of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. She presented her idea to other agencies to the public

The overall effect of the work, Gross predicts, will be improved fish habitat and better recreational opportunities. Currently, the sloughs are impassable because of the small culverts and the closeness of the roadbed to the waterway. In places, the sloughs are so clogged up with grass they are on their way to becoming meadows, Gross said.

Chena-Badger Slough, which flows into the Chena River, is an important spawning ground for Arctic grayling, Gross explained.

''The fish will be able to pass,'' she said. ''Any fish biologist will tell you there is no culvert that works for fish. And there's the added little element of recreational use. People will be able to take canoes, snowmachines or dog teams under the bridges.

Another benefit, North Pole Mayor Jeff Jacobson said, is the bridges may help prevent flooding. ''I see this as a springboard,'' Jacobson said. ''I'm hoping for a domino effect, that we'll get the other crossings addressed, too.''

The total project will cost less than $100,000, with some matching funding from service areas and the city of North Pole.

''The bridges enhance public safety,'' Jacobson said. ''This ties in with our larger plan of improving the quality of life in North Pole. The waterways, over time, have been neglected. They are a beautiful resource we need to restore and the bridges will go a long way to doing that.''

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