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Union Pacific temporarily tears up rails to benefit salmon

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - A train rumbles northward on the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, right next to workers in the process of rebuilding the Crystal Springs Creek culvert that passes under the tracks.Efforts underway to improve the flow of spring-fed Crystal Springs Creek to improve salmon habitat are an ecological benefit for the area. But this culvert-replacement project became challenging where the creek travels under the Union Pacific Railroad tracks north of Bybee Boulevard.

On August 3rd, two consecutive weekends of restricted railroad traffic allowed 24-hour-construction and installation of improved culverts to improve fish passage on Crystal Springs Creek. Just east of S.E. McLoughlin Boulevard, across from Westmoreland Union Manor, crews working on this Portland Bureau of Environmental Services project got the job done.

The Union Pacific Railroad cooperated, allowing temporary removal of three sets of rails, one at a time, to permit the construction. Trains were carefully rerouted over the remaining two sets of rails as the project advanced.

“Crystal Springs Creek has some of the best salmon habitat in Portland, but the former narrow culverts have made it difficult for fish to use it,” said Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman. “Replacing the culvert under the railroad tracks is an important part of the City’s efforts to restore habitat for threatened Coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.”

Specifically, this culvert, and eight others on the 2.7-mile creek, restrict fish passage, cause flooding, and can lead to a rise in creek water temperatures that harm juvenile salmon, pointed out TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch.

Scores of workers, using heavy equipment, including a massive crane, worked night and day over the two weekends to complete the project, minimizing disruption to rail traffic.

“We’re pleased that the light rail project and our partners are leveraging this opportunity to improve fish habitat along this critical alignment,” remarked TriMet Capital Projects Executive Director Dan Blocher. The new and larger culvert that will also run under the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail tracks soon to be constructed in that area.

These new fish-friendly culverts will allow salmon to access habitat the length of the creek, and will reduce potential flooding. The replacement of all nine culverts is scheduled to be completed in 2014, said TriMet’s Mary Fetsch.