Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:04 PM on Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bridge replaced, residents want road maintained

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

After area residents, emergency responders and fuel delivery drivers became concerned about holes in a Tall Tree Road bridge spanning Stariski Creek earlier this year, the borough came to the rescue with funding for repairs. That work was recently completed, but residents are critical of the outcome.

"It's one-lane instead of the two-lane we wanted put in. It's at an angle that I wouldn't have put in. But it's there. We have a bridge," said Buzz Moore who, about 15 years ago, constructed the bridge that had fallen into disrepair. "It doesn't sit well with everybody. The whole community has the same gripe we had before."

Linda Wakefield, another Tall Tree resident, also voiced dissatisfaction.

"The biggest concern is that we wanted a bridge that was going to be borough-approved so we could have borough maintenance on the road," said Wakefield, who collected signatures of her neighbors supporting bridge repairs and borough maintenance of the road.

When safety concerns were raised during the summer, both the state of Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula Borough claimed no responsibility for the stretch of road on which the bridge exists. Although Tall Tree is a borough-maintained road, maintenance stops about a quarter mile short of the bridge. Beyond that point, the road's construction does not meet borough standards.

Dave Carey, who was borough mayor when the bridge's unsafe conditions were identified, addressed the situation with a $50,000 award to Kenai Watershed Forum, a nonprofit dedicated to maintaining the heath of the peninsula's watersheds. That award, combined with an additional $20,000 from KWF's grant funding, allowed for a concrete panel to be bolted into place on top of the existing structure and bumper rails to be installed on the side of the bridge to keep vehicles on the road, said KWF Executive Director Robert Ruffner. During the work, a temporary bypass was provided so use of Tall Tree Road was not interrupted. East Road Services was the successful bidder on the project.

"(The borough) needed someone that could help out and fix a road they really didn't have responsibility for, but felt responsibility to the people that live out there," said Ruffner. "The only thing that needs to be done at this point is that we'll need to come back and do some stream bank revegetation work. We'll do that when the ground thaws out."

Moore contends the borough paid more than the cost of repairs offered by Tall Tree resident John Anderson. That plan called for a 20-by-57-foot steel structure to be placed over the bridge for the cost of less than $50,000. Peterson did not bid on the work, said Moore.

"I have nothing to say derogatory about East Road Services. They bid on a job and did a good job with what they've done," said Moore. "The problem I have is the engineering and all the extras that were included that would not have come to bear on the structure Mr. Peterson wanted to put in. The whole thing was foolishness. We got a poorer bridge in strength and width."

The opportunity for Tall Tree residents to bring the road up to borough standards still exists, according to Doug Schoessler, road service area director for the borough.

"First, they need a road construction permit and they can get that from the borough," said Schoessler. "They fill that out with what they want to do. If there's anything odd about it, it has to go through the road board to get approved. Then they would be permitted to do the construction."

The "Project Specific Right-of-Way Construction Permit Application" can be found online at www.borough.kenai.ak.usrds-department/row-rds or can be obtained at the borough offices in Homer and Soldotna. It includes construction standards and alternative design methods.

Although road construction is at a standstill for the winter, Schoessler said, "they could at least get their construction permits in line or what they plan to do and how to get it to standard."

Road construction standards regarding bridges are addressed in borough code, 14.06.180.

The borough would need an engineering report that the bridge complies with all relevant state and federal requirements if and when steps are taken to bring the road up to borough standards, Schoessler said.

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