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Crews install foundation for new bridge to be installed along Reeder Road later this year; work to improve connectivity of Sturgeon Lake

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Construction crews with Elting Northwest dig out a portion of Dairy Creek to temporarily dry out the creek bed while heavy machinery is used to install a two-lane bridge over the creek. The bridge is intended to replace two failing culverts under Reeder Road that connect Sturgeon Lake to the Columbia River. Ongoing restoration work to improve seasonal water flow to Sturgeon Lake continues on Sauvie Island as crews work on the early stages of bridge installation.

Construction workers, in conjunction with several wildlife restoration agencies, are in the early phases of installing a two-lane bridge along a portion of Reeder Road that crosses Dairy Creek.

The 96-foot-long, 40-foot-wide bridge is intended to replace a series of culverts installed under the road years ago that are now starting to show signs of failure. The culverts allow connectivity between the Columbia River and Sturgeon Lake on the northeastern portion of the island.

Sturgeon Lake is an important resource for migratory bird species and fish, like juvenile salmon. For decades the lake has been filling with silt, however, due to long-term connectivity issues.

The West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District identified the restoration work as a need several times in the district's history, including in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2007, culvert replacement was reevaluated as a high priority.

Replacing the culverts with a bridge will also increase the amount of water flow to and from Sturgeon Lake via Dairy Creek.

Scott Gall, a rural conservationist with the soil and water conservation district, explained that the two 12-foot culverts being removed were the largest possible size. Putting in a bridge allows vehicles to use the road while also ensuring the creek's water flow won't be impeded.

"We don't want this to have any restrictions on flow whatsoever," Gall explained "The big wide bridge means that it's just as wide as the channel."

In July, staff from the Columbia River Estuary Study Task Force and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife were required to remove fish in Dairy Creek and relocate them before construction work could begin. Around 2,300 fish, 26 of which were juvenile Chinook salmon, were transported.

"Based on the water quality that was there, it was surprising to catch so many," Tom Josephson, a senior habitat restoration project manager with CREST said, adding that finding salmon was also unexpected. "Usually you don't encounter them in the stream because the temperature is too hot."

Warm temperatures and shallow water are typically not where juvenile salmonids thrive. Gall explained that some of the fish may have been trapped in the creek with the seasonal changes in weather during April, May and June, when fish are typically found in the area.

In early July, construction workers with Elting Northwest Inc. began working on the island by installing a bypass road to the west of the culverts so traffic could move through the area while the culverts were removed piece by piece. Josephson said the biggest problem so far has been cars speeding through the work zone. Drivers are reminded to slow down and reduce their driving speeds in work zones.

"I get people still want to get to the beaches, but you also want your workers out here to be safe," Josephson added.

To get heavy machinery into the channel to install the bridge, the channel needed to be deepened and dried out, Josephson explained. Over the next few weeks, crews will do foundation work before the box beams and abutments can go in. The goal is to have the bridge installed by September.

The project is expected to cost $6.9 million. Approximately half of the expense is tied up in construction, while feasibility studies and design work absorbed the other half. Partner agencies like the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of State Lands, Multnomah County, Metro, Parks and Nature, and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board have been a major part of the project.

Nearly $300,000 in fundraising originated from private money through events spearheaded by the Oregon Wildlife Foundation.

West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District will issue regular updates about the project on a dedicated page of its website. For more information visit, wmswcd.org/types/sturgeon-lake/.

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