Second stage of wetlands project begins

Project will include the installation of duck and swallow nesting boxes

by: KEVIN GABOURY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Construction on the second stage of the Crooked River Wetland Mitigation project, which is funded by ODOT, began on Nov. 1.

Construction on stage two of the Crooked River Wetland Mitigation Project is under way and city officials have high hopes based on the level of success of the first stage, a three-acre wetland site, which was completed in 2005.
   Stage two, a partnership between the City of Prineville and Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), calls for construction of a six-acre site located about two miles northwest of Prineville just off the O'Neil Highway, and is expected to be completed in January 2008.
   According to Scott Smith, street supervisor for City of Prineville Public Works, ODOT projects occasionally impact a wetland and mitigation is needed. In this case, a number of projects around the region had affected wetlands.
   ODOT has set a six-year budget of $350,000 for the entire project and the money covers equipment rental, fuel and other materials needed for construction. It also provides the city with one acre of land for future infrastructure needs. The city, on the other hand, provides the land and employee wages. Currently there are three to four employees working at the site daily.
   Smith said that this particular stage may come in under budget due to excellent rental rates from Triad Machinery of Prineville. The original estimate was $177,000, but Smith expects the cost to be around $120,000.
   The project has been approved by a number of agencies, including Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Division of State Lands, and the Federal Highway Administration. Alison Cowie, mitigation bank specialist with ODOT, is in charge of the project. Cowie mentioned that this will mark the first time ODOT has consolidated a wetland mitigation bank in the state.
   ODOT chose the site for two reasons: its high potential for success and its location in an area with a high level of previous degradation. Cattle grazing since the early 1900s has caused soil compaction, water pollution and altered plant communities.
   "With other transportation needs in the region, and this area being so good for success, they wanted to expand," Smith said.
   The initial three-acre site has been very successful, given that it looked a lot like the current site just two growing seasons ago. Bird nesting baskets, installed by ODOT, poke up among the reeds and cattails, and according to Cowie, species of birds that hadn't been there before have moved in. It has grown in so well, if fact, that Smith has trouble distinguishing where it was started. ODOT received 33 awards for the site.
   The process for the new site requires digging down to the existing river level, and a large amount of groundwater is key. This also creates a huge amount of excavated material. Smith estimates about 3,000 square yards in a single six-hour shift, or about 80,000 square yards total. The stockpile of excess material is being deposited near the site and will be used for the next wastewater treatment plant holding pond.
   ODOT officials will then seed native aquatic plants and construct duck and swallow nesting baskets, as well as bat nesting boxes, which resemble large bird houses on 10-foot posts. They also plan on erecting large posts with platforms on top that are meant to mimic cottonwood trees in hopes of attracting great blue herons to the area.
   The final step, which will take place in July or August, is to connect the site to the river.
   The project may also help with the reintroduction of fish into the Crooked River. According to Cowie, it will create a perfect juvenile rearing habitat for small fish.
   "We're hoping that with the aquatic enhancements, the regulatory agencies will acknowledge the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead into the river system," Smith said.
   Wetland projects similar to this are becoming somewhat commonplace around the state, according to Smith, especially in the Klamath Falls area, where wetlands are common.
   "It's getting to be common practice for development," he said. "A lot of development happens in the general area of wetlands."