Friday, June 9, 2017

Confusion reigns regarding $21 million RR trestle rebuild project accross Grand River


For steelheaders such as Bob Ashley of Mentor the heavy-duty work of tearing down one and the building of another railroad trestle across the Grand River in Painesville has been the cause of some considerable heartburn.

Ashley is a serious steelheader who angles for the fish from September through late March. He often utilizes the lower section of the Grand River above and below the 100-year-old Norfolk-Southern railroad trestle. This structure is located just upstream from Ohio Route 84 in Painesville-Painesville Township.

However, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approved $21 million/two-year project to remove the 1,400-foot-long, 100-foot-tall current trestle and replace it with a similar structure has Ashley and other anglers concerned. These anglers are worried that the project’s included-900-foot-long temporary construction approach causeway will impact both steelhead migration and fisherman’s access to one of the Grand River’s best fishing venues.

Additional confusion exists in the minds of many steelheaders – and even some Lake County officials – that the just-started project will include (incorrectly, though) the shutting down of all recreational usage of the stream from Lake Metroparks’ Helen Hazen Wyman Park in Painesville-Concord townships downstream to the agency’s Beaty Landing in Painesville City.

“I guess I’ll have to spend more time on the Chagrin River,” said Ashley.

That won’t be necessary it would seem and based on information provided by Joe Fockler, the site’s project leader with the Great Lakes Construction Company of Hinkley.

Fockler explained that the causeway will feature a series of 25, 72-inch diameter/80-foot-long steel piping serving as culverts, anchored by large rocks and overlaid with more rock. From this causeway the contractor will utilize heavy equipment to remove the old trestle and replace it with a new one.

And during construction should debris wrestle their way against the metal culverts the construction team will remove them, Fockler said.

Presently the trestle sees between 20 and 25 train movements daily with a maximum speed limit of 50 miles per hour.

Fockler said as well that this causeway was designed – and is being built – to withstand the oft-times flood conditions of the Grand River with partial removal of the structure scheduled for winter when such factors are most likely.

Another serious concern among the Grand River’s recreationalists is that the construction project will curtail for two years not only paddle sports usage of the Grand River but also foot traffic for a considerable length of the stream.

That prospect will not be the case, says, Fockler, who states that foot traffic will only be restricted within a 150-foot or more stretch and confined by the immediate construction zone.

“And people will not be able to park along Route 84,” Fockler says of the popular jumping off point for steelheaders as well as smallmouth bass anglers. “The construction right-of-way is not a huge area.”

This being said, another serious question of concern still exists on the restriction by paddle-sports users of the stream. Here the position of Great Lakes Construction, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Painesville City, and Lake Metroparks becomes a bit more of muddied waters.

It is the intent of the contractor, says Fockler, to erect signage along the Grand River from Lake Metroparks’ Mason’s Landing – a paddle sports’ vessel launch site - in Leroy-Perry townships to the agency’s Beaty Landing. This signage will feature various forms of the general topic that the stream will be closed to watercraft traffic only between those two points.

Signage also will be posted further upstream so that river travelers will have the ability to take out at Mason’s Landing, Fockler says.

Meanwhile, Fockler’s comments do not represent in total what at least some others are saying. Painesville City engineer Leanne Exum issued a release on May 23rd which reads:

“The Grand River will be closed to all recreational users starting on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 until December of 2017. 

 

“The causeway will be removed at the end of the year and reconstructed in the Spring of 2018; at which time, the river would be closed to recreational users thru December of 2018. 

 

“The Grand River will be closed for recreational use from Helen Hazen Wyman Park,

off SR 86, to Beaty's Landing located off of SR 84 (East Walnut Street).”

 

Thus the signage is in some respects at the heart of the issue. Fockler’s company says the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has played a key role in the watercraft restrictions and signage wording, a point agreed to by Exum.

 

Yet the Natural Resources Department contends that its involvement is much less formal.

“The ODNR has played no role in the project or the potential closing of the river. We have not approved or provided signs, given permission for the river to be closed, or even been asked for that permission,” said Natural Resources spokesman Matt Eiselstein.  

“My understanding is that the United States Army Corps of Engineers indicated that the railroad has indicated to them that they possess the authority to close the river and ODNR has asked for the document that provided them this authority. To date, proof of that authority has not been provided.”

Regardless, Fockler says too that the construction’s footprint will almost certainly not impede upstream migration of steelhead or other fishes; a matter that typically involves the Corps whenever a stream project is likely to feature migratory fish movement.

“This has all been approved by the Corps,” Fockler said. “We’re just doing what the Corps has approved.”

For its part the Corps’ Buffalo District said it signed off on the project several months ago, thereby granting a two-year permit in order for Great Lakes Construction to conduct its work.

“We had reviewed the project to ensure that environmental impacts would be minimal,” said Corps’ Buffalo District spokesman Dr. Michael Izard-Carroll.

Izard-Carroll did note also that the agency “reserves the right” to make site inspections in order to make certain that the project’s plans “are being executed properly.”

Likewise, Izard-Carroll says that the public has the right to request Corps intervention should the former believe that the project is failing to live up to the permit’s terms. That can be done electronically via the Buffalo District’s web site, Izard-Carroll said.

In addition, says Fockler, that when the old trestle is removed and a new one installed, the structure will actually prove beneficial to the stream’s flow and habitat.

For one thing, Fockler says, the new trestle will feature fewer foundations into the Grand River which means that fewer snags, deadheads and trees will pile up against the trestle during flood events.

“We’re just out here to build a new bridge and to minimize our footprint on the river,” Fockler says. “The new trestle should last another 100 years.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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