A sign welcomes employees and visitors at the Kenai Peninsula Borough administration building on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign welcomes employees and visitors at the Kenai Peninsula Borough administration building on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly to mull grant aimed at improving salmon passage

Using a grant, the borough would replace a rotting bridge with a culvert

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will vote at their Jan. 19 meeting on whether or not to accept a grant allowing an anadromous stream culvert to be constructed on Old Exit Glacier Road in Bear Creek that would support the pink salmon that spawn there.

The culvert would replace a rotting wooden bridge, located in Bear Creek, that currently crosses the stream, which borough documents say is about 5 feet wide, 1 foot deep and flowing slowly.

A grant funded by the federal government would pay for $150,164.45 of the project, which is estimated to cost $155,000. The remaining $4,835.55 would come from the borough’s Road Service Area Board, who suggested the bridge for improvements. At their Jan. 12 meeting, the board recommended that the assembly approve the ordinance, Borough Roads Director Dil Uhlin said Wednesday.

In a memo to the assembly, Kenai Peninsula Borough Community and Fiscal Projects Manager Brenda Ahlberg said that the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon fishery was declared a disaster under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce in 2017. Congress appropriated $56.3 million to address the losses to seven management areas in the Gulf of Alaska in response.

The State of Alaska developed a distribution plan for the funds along with “stakeholders” and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA). Of the $53.8 million in funds NOAA ultimately distributed, the borough received just over $150,000 to develop, improve or maintain infrastructure supporting pink salmon commercial fisheries.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, bridges that span floodplains are generally the best way to cross streams and reduce the chances that fish habitats are negatively impacted, but culverts are generally more cost-effective.

“Properly sized culverts that are designed, installed, and maintained properly can provide a cost effective solution for crossing small streams,” the department’s “Culverts & Bridges” page says. “Culverts that are undersized tend to become perched or damaged leading to fish passage issues and increased maintenance costs.”

Public comment submitted to the assembly in advance is supportive of the culvert.

“Please support this Ordinance to improve pink salmon habitat and fish passage by replacing an old wooden bridge on Old Exit Glacier Road with an anadromous stream culvert,” wrote Carol Griswold of Seward.

According to the borough’s grant notice letter from the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, the project must be completed by March 31, 2024.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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