Busy time for Scappoose Bay watchdogs

Watershed Council undertaking three summer projects to improve bay habitat
by: Tyler Graf CULVERT PULL — Tim Hill of Aquatic Contracting works an excavator’s coupler so it can pull upright an old culvert from Cox Creek, near St. Helens. The Scappoose Bay Watershed project will replace the old culvert with a much larger one.

As the excavator's coupler hooks onto the edge of a culvert near Cox Creek outside of St. Helens, a large salamander wades into view. Before the machine can hoist the culvert upward, its jointed excavation arm stops.

If this were any other culvert replacement project, that salamander may have been mincemeat. But not under the watch of Janelle St. Pierre, coordinator of the Scappoose Bay Watershed Council, or the contractors of the project, Aquatic Contracting. St. Pierre takes the prehistoric-looking amphibian and places it into a bucket of water.

Though the watershed council typically has a short summertime window to perform projects - between July 15 and Aug. 31 - this summer is shaping up to be a busy one for the organization, which works to study and protect the bay and the surrounding tributaries.

The culvert replacement is one of three summer projects intended to restore and improve creek habitat and pathways for migrating aquatic life, especially fish.

For the Cox Creek project, contractors work to replace an older culvert with a much larger one.

'A larger culvert allows stream material, like gravel, to flow through more freely,' St. Pierre says, adding that the project requires widening the creek bed to fit the larger culvert.

In terms of overall fish activity, Cox Creek is the fourth most productive area in the watershed. By replacing the culvert on the creek, the watershed council will make an additional one mile of spawning habitat accessible to fish species, including coho, steelhead and cutthroat trout.

For work such as this, a specialized contractor with knowledge is required.

'This is a pretty common project for us,' says Adam Entringer, a foreman for Aquatic Contracting. He's worked on similar projects for the council and has learned to keep his eyes open for critters, such as salamanders.

At the county-owned Fisher Park, between Scappoose and St. Helens, where another council project finished, severe erosion and deep ruts caused by off road vehicles had damaged the creek bank. To mitigate the damage, the bank was pulled back to provide a more gentle slope, which is expected to allow the creek to flow over the slope rather than slam into the vertical bank.

'This area needed some love,' St. Pierre says.

The watershed council's third project is less about giving nature love and more about giving it a nudge.

The north and south Scappoose Creek confluence project, on private property near St. Helens, is an undertaking to repair damage to the creek's north-south confluence.

To repair the damage, the council is placing up-rooted dead trees into the water as a way to increase waterway complexity and improve water habitat.

Surveying and assessing the work at each site, St. Pierre says that some summers are busier than others.

And this one has certainly kept her busy, she adds.