Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:39 PM on Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Assembly kicks in funding for bridge rehab project

Morris News Service - Alaska

A vote by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to secure funding for critical repairs to a deteriorating bridge located north of Anchor Point on Tuesday night drew cheers and applause from the audience.

"It's been awhile since we have heard a round of applause up here in support of something we did," assembly president Gary Knopp said with a laugh.

At its regular meeting, the assembly unanimously approved Ordinance 2011-19-15, allocating up to $50,000 to fund improvements to the Tall Tree bridge on Tall Tree Road through a third party, which would ensure the bridge is repaired before winter and as cost efficiently as possible, assembly members said.

Total bridge repairs are estimated at $127,000, but several local agencies and businesses have confirmed their interest in helping fund a permanent fix to the aging and crumbling bridge decking, said Borough Mayor David Carey.

Temporary fixes were recently made to the bridge, including covering it with tracks from heavy equipment and covering holes worn through the decking.

The bridge crosses Stariski Creek, a salmon-spawning stream, and serves more than 35 residents who live in the area, as well as traffic from logging and oil exploration interests, gravel hauling and other businesses.

It is located within a state section line easement, but is not in a borough-dedicated right-of-way or on a borough- maintained road, Carey said. Borough maintenance of Tall Tree Road stops about a quarter mile before the bridge and neither the borough nor the state has claimed its maintenance yet. Carey said he is working with the state on that problem. He noted the assembly's current action would not commit the borough to the bridge's future maintenance.

"It still, I believe, falls under the area of what people depend on local government for is to respond in this manner," said Bill Smith, assembly member from Homer.

The bridge was built about 15 years ago by Buzz Moore. Due to its deterioration, the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area indicated it would not send emergency response equipment across it until improvements were made. The same is true for Petro Marine Services, which indicated it would not make fuel deliveries across the bridge.

"For the residents, this is their only means of access to that area," Smith said. "Also, there are significant commercial interests there that some of them have actually volunteered to help out either with work in kind or contributing money."

Among those interests contributing money to the cause are the Homer Soil and Water Conservation, Kenai Watershed Forum and Ninilchik Native Association Inc.

Bruce Oskolkoff, director of land and resources for NNAI, said there is a "strong and dedicated" effort by Tall Tree residents to see "some sort of positive resolution to the disastrous situation," as evidenced by a recent meeting.

"The nice part of the Anchor Point meeting was that everyone was really speaking in the affirmative as to the seriousness of that situation," Oskolkoff said. "I appreciate that the mayor took such an in-depth look at the situation and became fully aware of the extent and the seriousness of the health and risk associated with that project."

Tall Tree resident and business owner John Symens thanked the assembly for its response.

"I appreciate all my friends and neighbors who came down here to support this," he said. "I really appreciate Buzz Moore for jumping to bring the stuff down to fix the road."

Assembly member Brent Johnson, who represents the Tall Tree area, said he was pleased with all aspects of the situation.

"We have people that have used their own resources and have not just stood back and said, 'Government, do everything for us,'" he said. "They stepped up, built the bridge and they did a pretty dang good job."

Symens agreed.

"The bridge has a very solid foundation if we can just get this decked over in a manner that it would last for a while," he said.

"That bridge has withstood floods, it has withstood heavy machinery for years, it has got a good foundation — we just need to have a way to get to our homes and businesses."

Brian Smith is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.