Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 2:15 PM on Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tall Tree bridge work to be completed by Nov. 20

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer NewsPhoto provided

A sign alerts drivers on Tall Tree Road, north of Anchor Point, to dangerous conditions of an existing, privately built bridge. The Kenai Peninsula Borough has provided funding to the Kenai Watershed Forum to make repairs to the bridge.

With winter just around the corner and the deteriorating condition of a privately built bridge on Tall Tree Road that spans Stariski Creek delaying fuel delivery to some area residents, the Kenai Peninsula Borough in September awarded $50,000 to the Kenai Watershed Forum to repair the bridge.

An engineer has confirmed the integrity of the bridge's superstructure, according to Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum. The bridge repair contract includes redecking the bridge and adding railings, with the work to be completed by Nov. 20.

While construction work is being done, a temporary bridge will be positioned north of the existing bridge to allow ongoing access to both sides of the creek.

Although the borough maintains Tall Tree Road, that maintenance begins at the Sterling Highway and ends about a quarter mile before the bridge. Signs are posted where borough maintenance ends. Signs also have been positioned on either side of the bridge alerting drivers to its "dangerous" condition.

Neither the borough nor the state claim ownership of the bridge. However, concerns for the safety of area residents and commercial interests resulted in the borough finding a way to make improvements to the bridge.

"It is in the best interest of borough residents for the borough through its Road Service Area to provide funding to help alleviate the safety hazard," Borough Mayor David Carey told the Homer News in August.

The existing structure was built about 15 years ago by Tall Tree resident and business owner Buzz Moore. Holes in the bridge caused the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel and local fuel companies earlier this year to stop deliveries that involved use of the bridge.

After Moore positioned tracks from a piece of heavy equipment to cover holes on the bridge, emergency responders began using the bridge on a case-by-case basis, according to Chief Ben Maxon. Petro Marine also is making deliveries at the drivers' discretion. Suburban Propane has not resumed use of the bridge, however.

"The problem is the sign the borough has up that the bridge is not safe," said Dennis Rollins of Suburban Propane. "I watched a gravel truck come across it and that's all well and good, but our company policy is we won't put our equipment in jeopardy."

What would it take for Rollins to allow a driver to cross the bridge?

"A letter from the borough saying the bridge is OK or something from them that it was determined safe," said Rollins

Moore has been critical of plans to put a concrete surface on the bridge, offering, instead, a "viable, timely and cost-effective solution for repairing the bridge." As an alternative, Moore suggested use of a 20-by-57-foot steel structure to be placed over the existing bridge. Such a structure is owned by a Tall Tree resident, according to Moore.

"The cost of the steel structure and placement thereof could be accomplished within the already allocated $50,000, and would be completed in a very short amount of time with minimal inconvenience to the residents living beyond the bridge," said Moore.

Ruffner said Moore's suggestion was considered, but evaluations by more than one engineer determined the most favorable solution was to redeck the bridge with concrete.

"It would have to go through tests of the type of welding and fatigue the steel had," said Ruffner of requirements to ensure the steel structure's integrity. "We could evaluate for that, but it would have taken a long time. Longer than what we had."

As far as the safety of the current bridge, Ruffner said, "Everyone has a different comfort level. I'm comfortable the way it is, but the way it's set up is a temporary structure."

The final cost for bridge repairs will be known once a contractor is selected.

"The borough provided enough that we could show local support for the project moving forward," said Ruffner.

The reason the Kenai Watershed Forum was chosen to oversee the project is because of possible impacts to salmon habitat.

"That structure, as it stands right now is creating habitat concerns for spawning salmon," said Ruffner. "That's why we're involved in fixing the bridge. That will be the limit of what our organization is involved in."

The Tall Tree bridge isn't unique. Its situation is similar to others in the borough.

"I hope we can be a little more proactive in solving these issues before we can't get emergency services and fuel to people," said Ruffner.

"I hope from the Watershed Forum's perspective that we can step in and help solve this."

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