Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:37 PM on Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Aug. 24 meeting to address deteriorating bridge

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

Things aren't always what they seem. Just ask Buzz Moore, a resident of Tall Tree Road, north of Anchor Point.

For one thing, Moore is very much alive, in spite of reports to the contrary. While researching the condition of a Tall Tree bridge crossing Stariski Creek, the Homer News was told the bridge builder was deceased. Moore, who built the bridge, called Friday to point out the error.

"The rumor of my demise has been grossly overstated," Moore told the Homer News.

Secondly, "the bridge itself is very strong," said Moore. That in spite of the fact it has holes in it, decking planks are broken, Chief Ben Maxon of the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area has deemed it impassable for response equipment and Carol Inman of Petro Marine has declared crossing it too risky for fuel truck deliveries.

"The foundation of the bridge is strong enough to hold up anything," said Moore.

Fifteen years ago, to accommodate increased logging activity as a result of spruce bark beetle infestation, Moore built the bridge with the help of Kevin Gates of Gates Construction, who has since left the area. Each side of the bridge is supported by a steel I-beam sandwiched between two 24-inch pipes that are covered with wooden runners, a fabric water-resistant barrier and wood decking.

Moore tried to involve the Kenai Peninsula Borough in construction of the bridge, but was told funds weren't available and he lacked funding to build it wide enough to meet borough standards. Moore obtained a permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to remove an old log bridge and replace it with the one newer crossing Stariski, a salmon-spawning stream.

About five years ago, Moore redecked the bridge with new planks. A year ago, he had materials to construct a metal bridge and offered to sell them to the borough for $20,000, "but they said they didn't have the funding for anything like that."

The last time Moore said he talked to the borough about the condition of the bridge was a couple of weeks ago.

"No one called me back, but they did come out and put signs up," said Moore, referring to signs on either side of Stariski Creek alerting drivers to a non-borough maintained "dangerous bridge."

"It's held together for all these years, but there's a lot of traffic and it's deteriorated," said Moore.

In less than an hour Friday afternoon, traffic crossing the bridge included two four-wheelers, two passenger vehicles, a couple of pickups, a truck hauling out another vehicle, a Kenai Peninsula Borough pickup being used in spruce bark beetle mitigation and a gravel-hauling dump truck.

Troy Jones of East Road Services owns a Tall Tree Road gravel pit on the other side of the bridge, but has chosen to limit bridge use by taking gravel from another source.

"We've been holding off since the bridge has been in disrepair," said Jones.

Moore estimates repairs will cost $20,000, but where will the funds come from and who will do the work?

"That's the $50,000 question," said Jones. "It has to be a group effort. A government agency would be the best way, but somebody's going to have to do it. And there's the liability issues once you go and start trying to fix it."

Moore and Jones aren't the only two trying to problem-solve the bridge repair. The Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor's office has called a meeting at the Anchor Point Fire Hall for 6 p.m. Aug. 24.

"Anybody that would have information and is willing to participate is willing to attend," said Sue Wilcox of the mayor's office, adding, "We'd like to officially invite the bridge builder."

On Tuesday, Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Watershed Forum, visited the site.

"We've been contacted by a couple of people in the borough to see if there's anything we can do to help out, but I'm not really sure at this point," said Ruffner, who plans to attend the Aug. 24 meeting.

John Mohorcich, director of the Kenai River Center, has been requested by the borough mayor's office to look into the situation. In terms of permits, what was needed 15 years ago has become a bit more involved.

"Basically, what you've got is Fish and Game responsible for the water body, so working over it requires their permit. ... If there's work in wetlands, the Army Corps of Engineers is involved," said Mohorcich. "In addition, ... in 2000, the Kenai Peninsula Borough picked up Stariski Creek as one of the 50-foot habitat protection rivers, so that project would now also require a borough 50-foot habitat permit."

Removal of water from Stariski would require an Alaska Division of Lands and Water permit.

Phil North of the Environmental Protection Agency agreed the process was simpler when Moore installed the bridge.

"All those kinds of things that would have to be considered and resource agencies would ask for now, we didn't ask for 15 years ago, or at least didn't get 15 years ago," said North.

With more than 30 people living and working on the east side of the bridge, use of it isn't stopping. Jones offered a word of caution.

"(The bridge) is extremely dangerous," he said. "People need to look at it from the bottom side and not be walking around on top of it. It's deteriorating. Not from heavy trucks or fuel trucks or gravel trucks. That hasn't caused the damage. It's just rotted out."

Moore believes the bridge should be reconstructed to borough standards and added to its maintenance program.

"I am capable of fixing it if some money was made available to do so," he said. "It they would get the hell out of our way and let us put the bridge in, we could do it."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.