It's been years in the planning, but with Army Corps help, it will finally happen this summer

DAVID F. ASHTON - On the Oaks Bottom side of the project, this water control structure will be removed as well, and the terrain regraded, which will permit better water flow into and out of Oaks Bottom all year long. In an effort to improve the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, now the largest remaining natural area within the Lower Willamette River floodplain, local and federal agencies are joining forces to make the long-delayed "Oaks Bottom Tidal Restoration Project" finally a reality.

"This is an Army Corps of Engineers project, in conjunction with the City of Portland," Jim Adams, Project Manager, Portland District, Army Corps of Engineers told THE BEE. "It's part of the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Projects Continuing Authorities Program under Section 206 – the same program under which we worked with the city on the Crystal Springs Creek Restoration and Westmoreland Park projects."

The focus of the project, Adams explained, is removing and replacing an existing culvert, about a quarter mile north of Oaks Amusement Park along the Springwater Corridor Trail, which connects Oaks Bottom with the Willamette River.

"This culvert is not very fish-friendly, creates a lot of turbulence, and is also perched high, so it doesn't connect very well with river under low-water conditions," Adams said, as THE BEE looked out over the site.

City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Project Manager Sean Bistoff, who said he's been involved with this project for a last decade, added detail: The round concrete pipe there now will be replaced with a box culvert, 16' wide by 12' high.

"After the culvert has been installed, the bottom will be lined with stream-bed material; and and the openings will be considerably lower than the current culvert," Bistoff said.

"We're really excited to finally work to get the salmon habitat in Oaks Bottom opened up, so when they arrive here they'll have a hospitable environment to live in," enthused BES Environmental Program Coordinator Ronda Fast. "The project benefits will be huge, in terms of helping Portland meet its goals for salmon recovery, building on other projects we've done together with the Army Corps of Engineers. This project will also improve water quality in Oaks Bottom by a establishing a normal hydrologic connection with the river."

Thanks to the funding provided to the project by the Army Corps of Engineers' involvement, and the technical expertise they bring to it, this project can now get underway, observed Ms. Fast.

Under Section 206, the Corps contributes 65% of the total cost of the project; the City of Portland contributes 35% for ecosystem restoration components of the $7.5 million project Adams revealed. "Recreational components" of the project are cost-shared on a 50/50 basis, he said.

$7.5 million is a lot of money, Adams agreed, "But, keep in mind that this is not only for improving salmon habitat, but it's also a wide-ranging ecosystem restoration that will also help amphibious creatures and waterfowl. However, salmonids are of particular importance."

Bistoff remarked that the main work will coincide with the mandated "in-water work window" from July 1 through October 31. "We'll be doing some preliminary work in the late winter and early spring – like clearing some trees before birds come to roost in them, making way for construction access.

"By the way, we'll be reusing many of the removed trees in the project itself to provide large wood structures in this stream."

Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs Specialist Sarah Bennett said that, for the 120-day main construction period, the trail will be closed to both bicyclists and pedestrians – and Dick Samuel's rail line will be interrupted too. "This is a relatively short-term impact; and hopefully, when the trail is reopened, everyone will see and enjoy the benefits of this project."

The plan is to put signs up, warning of the trail closure, and then, during construction, post detour signs on bicycle routes leading to the trail so users aren't surprised to find it closed off. One of the reasons for the S.E. 19th Avenue Greenway having been finished when it was, was to provide an alternate bike path from S.E. Linn Street north to the Springwater Trail north access point at S.E. Mitchell Street at McLoughlin.

THE BEE will be following the progress of this unique ecological project.

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