Sandy company builds a bridge to the future

Pacific Bridge and Construction wins awards for innovation
by: contributed photo, From left, County Commissioners Larry Sowa, Bill Kennemer and Martha Scrhader joined District Ranger Andre Rykof and Mark Mouser of the Mt. Hood National Forest in congratulating father-son team Gene and Steve Copher of Pacific Bridge and Construction for their

Clackamas County has replaced a lot of faulty stream culverts with bridges - 73 to be exact - but just one of these projects stands out to area government leaders as cutting-edge technology.

That project - the Wee Burn Creek Bridge near The Resort at the Mountain in Welches - wasn't developed by some New York or Los Angeles engineering firm; it was created by family-owned, Sandy-based Pacific Bridge and Construction Inc.

Federal, state and county officials recently honored Pacific's father-and-son team, Gene and Steve Copher, for their unique, patented bridge design that saved the government time and money. The company received a 'New Innovations' award earlier this year from the U.S. Forest Service, and was formally recognized by the Clackamas Board of County Commissioners in September.

'We're really excited about it,' said Gene Copher on receiving the recognition. 'We've been working really hard on this for several years, and we feel that it's sort of the best design and product out there. And it's made right here in Sandy.'

The Wee Burn Fish Passage Enhancement Project - funded by Clackamas County and an $85,000 grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board - replaced faulty metal culverts along Wee Burn Creek where it passes under Welches Road.

During heavy rains the culverts overflowed and flooded Welches Road, and during low-water times, the creek flowed beneath the culverts in thin passages that blocked fish.

Unlike conventional concrete bridges that are poured in place, the Wee Burn Bridge is made of interlocking, prefab pieces that were poured and cured offsite in a controlled environment before they were assembled on site in a quick, Lego-like fashion.

'It's a great bridge design because it allows us to place the footings and abutments first, restore the streambed to our hearts' content, and then cap the bridge with the roadbed,' Steve Copher said.

The Cophers' design allowed for a rapid, one-month installation last fall without the use of a crane. Compared with traditional 'open-arch' designs, the bridge reportedly saved the county an estimated $50,000, while saving local drivers from prolonged road closure.

'We went from multiple culverts to a bridge with a viable stream in four weeks,' said Clackamas County Commissioner Bill Kennemer. 'In many ways, it was our best (culvert replacement) effort to date. It could well influence the way culvert replacements are handled nationwide.'

The Cophers believe that Wee Burn is just the beginning.

'We keep getting more and more calls,' Gene Copher said, noting that those calls have come from the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Army Corps of Engineers, among others. 'It's all pretty exciting.'

And the fish like it, too. In a nod of approval from nature, wild coho salmon spawned on both ends of the bridge a mere 60 days after the project's completion.