It’s a famous picture. You can see it by typing “fish crossing the road” into Google Images. The first photo that pops up is a salmon crossing East Devils Lake Road just east of Lincoln City. It’s spawned plenty of jokes. But for north county residents who routinely drive that road, it’s no laughing matter.
The flooding across the roadway that persists for several months of the year is at least a nuisance and at worst a safety hazard, forcing periodic closures of the road.
Lincoln County officials want the public to know they’re taking the problem seriously. “There’s a perception that because nothing’s happening with the road, nothing is being done to address the problem,” said Bill Hall, chair of the Board of County Commissioners. “In fact, the county’s been working with state and federal agencies to come up with an answer for several years. Environmental concerns are a big part of why any solution is very complicated and costly,” Hall said.
However, Hall and fellow commissioners Terry Thompson and Doug Hunt often get phone calls, letters and emails from those who travel the road regularly, who say they’re fed up by the lack of progress.
The latest $4.55 million proposal would elevate the road three feet above current ground level and install a 60-foot bridge. The new bridge would be supported on steel pilings driven to bedrock to eliminate settling. The plan also envisions using numerous tactics to protect and enhance 40 acres of surrounding wetlands, which are critical habitat for Coho salmon, whose ability to migrate and spawn are threatened by the flooding of the road. The Devils Lake Watershed has been designated as critical habitat for the Coho, which continues to be listed as a threatened species.
Lincoln County has applied for grants from the Federal Land Acquisition Program and from the Coastal and Marine Habitat Restoration Project to finance the bridge. “We hope to know whether we are successful sometime this fall,” said Jim Buisman, county public works director. Buisman says East Devils Lake Road has occupied a lot of his time during his more than thirty years with the county. Buisman said the road, which was built in the 1940s, has been settling for years due to the soft soils it’s built on. The two existing bridge structures are only inches above water level at low flows, so when moderate to high flows occur, water spills over the road causing spawning fish to become stranded on the pavement.
Busiman said in the past, the county was able to dredge the channel from the road to Devil’s Lake which kept the ditches on either side of the road cleared. He says this approach also kept the roadway clear of stream overflows for a number of years. But then came the big landslide up on Rock Creek which sent huge amounts of sediment coursing downstream. The sediment collected in the creek bed, and under the two bridges. As a result, heavy rains regularly push runoff over the roadway, so much so, that Coho salmon commonly mistake it for the creek itself. In the meantime, the issue caught the attention of the Department of State Lands, the Corp of Engineers and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Partnering with the Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the county came up with some options. They varied from a viaduct to a total realignment of the road away from the area. Price tags ranged from $20 million to $30 million. Lincoln County applied for a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s highly-competitive Tiger III grant program. The county didn’t get the money. So, Lincoln County went back to the drawing board and developed the current proposal which, again, involves a sixty foot raised bridge with supports anchored to bedrock.
County officials say they don’t expect to learn whether they’ll get the funding until sometime this Fall.