Poor weather last September stopped construction of the new dike before it was completed. The Columbia is eroding the existing dike under Steamboat Slough Road, and the US Army Corps of Engineers is directing the construction of the new dike set back from the shoreline.
When the new dike is completed, the contractor will breach the old dike in two places, and the land between the shoreline and the new dike will become wetland habitat for juvenile salmonids.
Because heavy equipment uses Steamboat Slough Road during construction, the Corps has asked for county permission to close the narrow road to keep the public away from the work.
County commissioners have been concerned that construction equipment has damaged the road, and they have asked the Corps for a written guarantee that the road will be returned to a condition at least equal to the condition it was in when work started.
At a meeting earlier in March, commissioners said they might impose a weight limit on equipment using the road if the Corps didn't provide the guarantee.
Amy Gibson, project manager for the Corps, explained that Corps legal counsel advised against making a written guarantee that would have no defined limits. Furthermore, the contract with the construction company requires the company to repair any damage to the road.
This past week, commissioners received a letter from Kevin Brice, Corps deputy district engineer for project management, who discussed the need for the road closure and also reaffirmed the Corps's commitment to repair the road.
"As stated in the past, the Portland District intends to return Steamboat Slough Road to the condition it was in prior to initiating construction of the Steamboat Slough project," Brice wrote.
"Upon completion of the project, our contract requires the contractor to return Steamboat Slough Road to the condition it was found in August of 2013. These repairs will be completed at the end of construction of the Steamboat Slough project and no later than October 31, 2014."
Personnel from the Corps and Wahkiakum County engineer's office have reviewed those standards and reached an agreement on what would be required.
"The letter alleviates some of my concerns," said Commissioner Blair Brady, who has been the most vocal about imposing the weight limit to press for the guarantee from the Corps.
The commissioner unanimously passed a motion to authorize closure of the road from March 31 to October 31.
Gibbons said the Corps and contractor want to start work as soon as possible and finish as soon as possible.
First, they'll have to pump out water that has collected in the basin between the old and new dikes. Then they'll finish work on the interior and exterior slopes of the new dike, and finally, they'll cut holes in the old dike to allow the river to have access to the land.
Brady asked that the road be opened to allow anglers access to fishing areas on days the contractor wouldn't be hauling on the road.
"That's definitely a possibility," Gibbons said. However, she added that safety would be a major consideration.
Commissioners and Mike Linn of Diking District No. 5 (Skamokawa valleys) also asked that, when feasible, any surplus dirt, sand or rock be made available to them. Gibbons responded that the agreement already calls for surplus material to be provided to the county.
"We're aware," she said. "We'll do what we can."