Deadline near for in-water work

POLK COUNTY -- Wayne Patten lowers the boom of an excavator near the edge of the Willamette River and with it a precast concrete plank that spans a little over 26 feet and weighs several tons.


Lane Martin, far right, and Bill Ross of K&E Excavating maneuver a precast concrete plank into position Aug. 29.

POLK COUNTY -- Wayne Patten lowers the boom of an excavator near the edge of the Willamette River and with it a precast concrete plank that spans a little over 26 feet and weighs several tons.

Patten, a superintendent with Salem-based K&E Excavating, is trying to align the structure on steel rails running into the water on a grade for a forthcoming boat ramp.

The planks should fit together like flooring, but these are slightly off. Patten's crew wades in waist deep, feeling around below the surface with feet and shovels to level out gravel beneath and clear rocks lodged between the concrete.

"The sun probably does help their visibility," Patten said. He adds quickly: "Or it keeps them warm, anyway."

We're still in the summer building season, as evidenced by the number of road, commercial and home construction projects around Polk County. Infrastructure or environmental projects in area waterways are also part of that mix.

The state's window for "in-water" work on rivers, tributaries, wetlands and other bodies of water began in July and will conclude in the next few weeks. The period ends for waterways in Polk County, such as the Willamette and Luckiamute rivers and the creeks that drain into them, by Oct. 15.

There are nine projects involving in-water work that are currently permitted in Polk County, according to the Oregon Department of State Lands. Some have already happened, others are in process, according to records.

Those include a single-span bridge replacement on Guthrie Road, bank erosion work at Wallace Marine Park and significant improvements along creeks in the Grand Ronde area.

In-water work generally requires permits if a project involves more than 50 cubic yards of fill and/or removal from waters in a jurisdiction, or if it's essential salmon habitat or in a scenic waterway.

Though the work must happen quickly, the permitting process and due diligence process can be exhaustive. It's overseen by DSL and/or the Army Corps of Engineers, with timeframes set by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

More review may be required by the Department of Environmental Quality or the National Marine Fisheries Service if there's a question about impacts to water quality or endangered species.

"It took us two years to get a permit," said Shawn Irvine, Independence's economic development director and one of those who's overseen the boat ramp.

Though the window is open three months or more, many typically wait until the water level is at its lowest before starting work.

For the Independence boat ramp, K&E crews had to clear trees and brush off an embankment, then remove more than 2,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock. The ramp itself was graded at 15 percent and extends 30 or so feet into the water.

"That's the biggest challenge," Patten said. "Our equipment is all GPS guided, so we can put the bucket of the excavator under water and know what the grade is."

Perhaps the most significant in-water project in the county is a roughly $1.6 million one happening on Agency Creek near the rodeo grounds in Grand Ronde.

The tribe has been preparing a stretch of the creek for planting of native vegetation to stave off erosion. It's also repairing roads and replacing 37 culverts along Agency Creek Road and a 96-inch culvert at Joe Creek with an arch pipe measuring 116 inches in diameter.

"The culvert was undersized for the flow of water," said Siobahn Taylor, Grand Ronde public relations director. "It was scouring the creek bed downstream and creating a barrier to fish passage ... we're hoping this will open upstream migration for anadromous fish."


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