Tall Tree bridge fix in the works

Recent rains that caused flooding in the Seward and Cooper Landing areas, and along the Kenai River, left their calling card on Tall Tree Avenue, north of Stariski. The force of erosion snapped the weld on a railroad tie used in the abutment of a bridge spanning Stariski Creek, sending gravel and cement-filled bags into the salmon-spawning stream. 

“This will never make it through the winter,” said Tall Tree resident John Symens, standing next to a gaping hole above the abutment.

Symens placed cones around the hole and on the approaches to the bridge to warn others. He was granted a 24-hour period by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to stop more gravel from sliding into the creek.

Damage to the bridge and flooding along Tall Tree are not new. In 2011, then Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey worked with local residents to repair flood damage. Last year, rain caused flooding to the approach to the bridge from the Sterling Highway,  washed away a portion of a natural gas pipeline being installed by Enstar Natural Gas and more steps were taken to keep the bridge and road passable.

The state of Alaska does not claim ownership. The area lies outside the Kenai Peninsula Borough Road Service Area. Tall Tree residents have used their own equipment to keep the bridge passable. Now, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre is addressing short- and long-term repairs, with hoped-for help from Gov. Sean Parnell and Hilcorp Alaska who has a natural gas well pad on Tall Tree.

“Hilcorp has stepped up under the current situation because they have wells back there and utilize the bridge and roads and have done some maintenance on it,” Navarre told the Homer News on Sept. 20. “They’re helping us with the immediate situation.”

Lori Nelson, manager of external affairs for Hilcorp, said McLane Consulting of Kenai has inspected the bridge, abutments and road and completed engineering reports for the work needed.

“We want to make sure there’s a safe repair put in place, for not only the residents, but for employees that work in the area,” said Nelson. 

The two hurdles faced by Hilcorp are finding an appropriate contractor and obtaining the necessary permits, said Nelson.

“We’ll help with the permits that are necessary,” said Navarre of keeping the repair project moving.

The repair work also is on Navarre’s list of subjects to discuss with Gov. Sean Parnell when Navarre meets with governor in Anchorage on Oct. 7.

“What we’re going to ask the governor for is money to fix it next year,” said Navarre. “If we’re able to get the bridge and approaches on both sides, if we can get funding to do that, then we’ll ask the borough’s road service area to accept it as part of the service area.”

Navarre estimated it would cost $500,000 to improve to borough standards the bridge abutments and section of non-borough maintained Tall Tree Avenue leading on the Sterling Highway side of bridge.

“Structurally the bridge is fine. It’s just some of the abutment protection sheeting that’s allowing material to slough off into the river,” said Navarre. “As it sloughs, it can create problems for the road bed above it.”