Friday, December 28, 2018

Harpersfield dam breach sends government, renovation project company scrambling

An all ready delayed $7 million project intended to prevent the invasive sea lamprey from migrating further up into the Grand River and its tributaries has encountered another snag.

Harpersfield dam is part of Ashtabula County Metroparks’ 53-acre Harpersfield Covered Bridge Park. It is located off Route 534 and just south of I-90 in Ashtabula County’s Harpersfield Township. It is an enormously popular steelhead fishing spot and an upstream jumping off place for canoeists and kayakers.

And the dam serves as an effective barrier against supplemental upstream intrusion by sea lampreys. If the 117-year-old dam were to fail this action would allow the invasive species nearly 1,300 additional miles of main stem and tributary spawning grounds.

Thus a joint, local, state and federal project began to work on preventing the aged structure from experiencing a catastrophic failure. Project partners include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the Ohio Deaprtment of Natural Resources, the Ohio EPA, and the county parks system.

A moderately heavy rain event December 21st saw the dislodging of two expensive coffer dam bladders at the fabled Harpersfield dam. These bladders were installed in early November above the dam and its adjacent iconic covered bridge.

The two heavy-duty synthetic fabric multi-chambered water-inflatable devices – each costing upwards of $30,000 - were sent over the dam as a result of the rain-induced high water. One of the bladders became deflated and wrapped itself around a cover bridge support. Meanwhile, the other bladder scooted about 150 to 170 yards downstream where it came to rest in the middle of the Grand River, stuck on the stream bed.

A third coffer dam bladder remained in place above the dam and situated extending from near the north bank.

As a result of the two coffer dams’ departure, water began shooting out in a cavity of the dam that had been demolished along the stream’s north bank. The plume of water started eating away at the soft bank where it lips around a part of the structure that remains in place.

Project engineering firm Eclipse Company of Chagrin Falls immediately began establishing a temporary fix – a detail that included working through Christmas Day - dumping concrete dam remnants in the gaping maw; some of the material still eqipped with protruding strands of rebar steel.

By December 26th the breech largely was plugged though water still continued to stream through the cracks and crevices formed by the placement of the slabs of concrete and rock. A pair of earth-moving equipment were employed just downstream of the dam, scooping up more rock and wayward rebar-reinforced concrete plates in order to reinforce the enlarging hollow below the temporary stone dam edifice.

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Eclipse and others met December 26th to discuss the best way to fix the problem, remove the two dislodged water-inflatable bladders and proceed with the anticipated two-year-long project that was to have begun in 2017.

This was the second delay for the project. However, a dispute over a privately owned 0.3-acre parcel on the south bank held up the affair, the county park district weary of going to court with an eminent domain claim, said an official with that agency.

This delay helped stall the project’s start, and also almost certainly became a contributing factor in its cost rising from an original price tag of about $6 million to close to $7 million, a Corps official said.

The Corps project manager for the site – Gabriel Schmidbauer – said his agency would have preferred that the bladders been anchored with the use of large rock or concrete blocks than by using rigging and driven posts. That was not the case, and the resulting loss of the two bladders and subsequent emergency response meant that the project is requiring revision “to ensure that this won’t happen again,” Schmidbauer said.

There’s going to be close scrutiny with any plan by my team, and the placement of the bladders must be rock steady,” Schmidbauer said. “Any plan that comes about must be the right plan and executed properly.”

Schmidbauer says also the two dislodged bladders appear to be salvageable and if so, they will be moved back above the dam and reused. A key is to make certain this work is done safely for Eclipse crews sake as the Grand River’s current is tricky, especially when rain events or snow melt dumps large volumes of water into the stream, rising its level quickly and swiftly.

The same safety concern applies to any loosened rock and chunks of rebar-fitted concrete that have made their way downstream. These pieces could prove hazardous to workers as well as anyone wading the stream or navigating it in paddle-sport vessels such as canoes and kayaks.

Safety is our priority,” Schmidbauer says.

In that regard as well the Ashtabula County Engineer’s office made a visual inspection of the covered bridge. The county agency was said to have found that the dislodged bladder hung up on the bridge piling did not threaten the integrity of the structure.

I’m not an engineer but that’s always a big concern,” said Larry Frimerman, the metroparks’ executive director. “And I want to stress to anglers to stay out of the river near the dam, especially since there could be debris still there.”

Schmidbauer did add that any additional cost resulting in the bladders dislodging, their possible removal and reuse, the building of the temporary dam patch, and other resulting extra project costs will likely be borne by Eclipse.

We did tell Eclipse that it was their responsibility, but we do have some contingency money and I still expect that the project will be completed by late 2020 with possibly even some savings,” Schimbauer said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Ohio's to-date deer kill still limping; several counties down 500 to more than 600 animals

With Ohio’s accumulated deer hunting seasons running down the clock, the lag in the to-date kill continues to hover around seventeen thousand animals when compared to the same time frame in 2017.

Indeed, some counties are seeing drops of 500 to more than 600 animals when their 2018 to-date figures are laid next to their respective 2017 to-date numbers.

Based on raw data supplied weekly by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the current to-date deer kill – as reported through December 25th – stood at 146,597 animals. In 2017 the equivalent December 26th to-date deer kill was 163,638 animals: A difference of 17,041 deer.

The to-date comparison difference going into last week was a nearly identical 17,082 deer.

To illustrate the ball and chain effect on this year’s deer kill, only two of Ohio’s counties are showing current to-date increases when compared to their comparable and respective 2017 numbers. These counties are Clark – 622 (595); and Geauga – 1,580 (1,571). Last week this small subset of counties was three.

Which means that 85 Ohio counties are experiencing declines when compared to their comparable to-date 2017 numbers. And for some of these counties the changes are significant, too.

In Guernsey County the 2017 verses 2018 to-date numbers amounts to a 511 animal decline. Meanwhile, in Licking County that number is 559 deer while in Tuscarawas County the figure is 637 deer, and in Coschocton the number is 657 deer.

Among some of the other counties showing declines (with their comparable 2017 to-date numbers in parentheses) are: Adams – 2,504 (2,871); Ashtabula – 4,300 (4,532); Brown – 1,896 (2,232); Carroll – 2,901 (3,418); Harrison – 2,687 (3,187); Holmes – 3,274 (3,663); Lake – 674 (739); Lucas – 593 (622); Marion – 683 (811); Monroe – 1,954 (2,271); Morgan – 2,486 (2,822); Ottawa – 382 (410); Richland – 2,783 (3,129); Trumbull – 3,024 (3,209); Vinton -2,072 (2,471); Washington – 2,615 (2,861); and Williams – 1,365 (1,452).

Another way to look at the figures, last year this time the state had 13 counties with to-date deer kills of at least three thousand animals each. This year that figure stands at just nine counties.

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Friday, December 21, 2018

Ohio Central Basin walleye anglers will see great angling into at least the early 2020s

Lake Erie Central Basin anglers are in for an extended streak of booming walleye fishing and likely improved yellow perch fishing well into at least the early years of the 2020s.

With the noteworthy walleye fishing that Ohio Central Basin anglers experienced this summer and fall comes the equally compelling news that the 2018 hatch of walleye is being described as “exceptional” by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Data gathered by the agency via the use of specialized trawling gear to sample for yellow perch, however, was described as only “average,” though the hatch was considerably better from Fairport Harbor east to Conneaut than it was from Huron east to Fairport Harbor.

Even so, the Wildlife Division is not inclined to credit the angler-motivated gentleman’s 
agreement to limit commercial fishing for yellow perch off Fairport Harbor’s fabled “Hump” as contributing to the better hatch from that port to Conneaut.

As for the details, the Wildlife Division says that data collected from its 2018 survey indicated that young-of-the-year walleye catch rates were “the highest recorded in the past 20 years of the Central Basin trawl survey (32 fish per hectare).”

This year’s results, combined with the excellent 2015 year-class, will ensure adult walleye abundance in the central basin will continue to increase,” the Wildlife Division says.

Adding to that statement are the thoughts of Travis Hartman, the agency’s lead Lake Erie fisheries biologist.

What we have seen is a strong recruitment of walleye lakewide,” Hartman said.

The “why” of such a recruitment is not fully understood but a powerful correlation suggests that in years when Lake Erie water levels are high so too is young-of-the-year walleye recruitment.

Hartman says the prevailing thought is that when Lake Erie’s water levels rise – and they are near record levels now – the just-hatched walleye get “swept toward shore” instead of out into deeper water.

In shore these young walleye find themselves in nursery waters; relatively safe and also able to access the plankton they need to feast on for growth, Hartman says.

Asked then how long it will take for the walleye born in 2018 to become of legal size, Hartman said that because of phenomenal growth due to an abundance of invertebrates for forage, a walleye hatched this year will be 12 to 14 inches by the end of the 2019 fishing season. And by 2020 these walleye will have grown to 14 to 16 inches.

Twenty twenty-one will be the big year;” Hartman said.

In detailing the Central Basin’s yellow perch hatch the Wildlife Division was not nearly so enthusiastic, though that term is relative.

The agency says that its trawl survey in the Central Basin for yellow perch indicated that while hatch was the “highest observed since 2014 (40 fish per hectare)” it was still just below the long-term average (45 fish per hectare).

In the individual management units, the western portion of the Central Basin (Huron to Fairport) index was 28 fish per hectare, below the average of 42 per hectare. The index in the eastern portion of the Central Basin (Fairport to Conneaut) was 51 fish per hectare, above the average of 41 per hectare,” officially says the Wildlife Division.

Hartman did add some meat to the news by saying that the Central Basin’s yellow perch experience “incredible growth rates.”

Much of that is because of a really good population of invertebrates the perch use for forage,” Hartman says. “It’s unbelievable how fast a two- and three-year-old perch grows in the Central Basin.”

Such growth rates are seen in the numbers: A Central Basin yellow perch that hatched in 2018 and survives to this time in 2019 will average 6 to 7 inches. By 2020, they will be of a size that Central Basin anglers relish to keep, Hartman says.

A jumbo yellow perch of 12 inches or more will be four or more years old, Hartman says as well.

Even so, Hartman declines to say that the sport angler-commercial fisherman gentleman’s agreement hammered out in 2017 to keep the latter off the Fairport Harbor Hump area during the perch spawning period had anything to do with the improved hatch in the region.

Simply, Hartman does not see a direct population maintenance link between the commercial harvest of yellow perch and its spawning period.

We manage in relationship to the (yellow perch) population and when it drops we lower the total allowable catch and adjust our appropriate regulations,” Hartman said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Ohio's to-date deer harvest totals continue to tumble

With no expectation of surprise, the current to-date deer kill stands well below its comparable 2017 to-date deer harvest numbers.

Based on raw data available weekly from the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the to-date deer kill as of December 18th is 145,568 animals. The comparable to-date figure for December 19th, 2017 was 162,650, for a difference of 17,082 animals, or about 11 percent.

Even before the dismal drop of about 31 percent in the recently concluded two-day bonus gun deer hunt, the 2018-2019 season to-date deer harvest was lagging by 12,254 animals. Thus, the slow bonus season only added to this year’s on-going lackluster deer harvest.

And of Ohio’s 88 counties, fully 85 of them have posted current to-date declines when their numbers are stacked up to their 2017 to-date counterparts. A number of these shortfalls are significant, too.

Among the 85 counties were a few that had been running pluses up until the current to-date numbers became available. Counties such as Coshocton, Medina and Portage, for example, were on a hot, gain streak, but are now also listed in the decline side of the ledger.

Among the counties posting current to-date declines (with their 2017 to-date numbers in parentheses) are: Adams – 2486 (2,850); Ashtabula – 4,288 (4,514); Brown -1,876 (2,222); Carroll - 2,890 (3,400);Clinton -594 (726); Coshocton – 5,075 (5,731); Fayette – 241 (315); Guernsey – 3,507 (4,024): Harrison - 3,507 (3,166); Hocking - 2,385 (2,781); Knox – 3,565 (4,108); Lake – 663 (724); Licking – 3,727 (4,292); Lucas -581 (606); Marion – 682 (808); Morgan – 2,478 (2,814); Muskingum – 3,932 (4,584); Ottawa – 373 (402) Portage – 1,961 (1,990); Seneca – 1,590 (1,742); Trumbull – 2,996 (3,185); Tuscarawas – 4,320 (4,963); Vinton – 2,063 (2,464); and Washington – 2,595 (2,846).

The three counties posting gains (with their respective 2017 to-date numbers in parentheses) are: Clark – 617 (591); Geauga – 1,554 (1,547); and Greene – 676 (665).

Another way to look at the disparity between the to-date numbers for both 2017 and 2018 is that at this point in 2017 Ohio had seven counties with deer kills of four thousand or more animals each. For this year to-date that figure is just three counties.

Wildlife Division biologists are now suggesting that the 2018-2019 total all-seasons deer kill may be 10 percent less than the comparable 2017-2018 figure of 182,169 animals.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, December 17, 2018

Ohio's bonus gun deer season off 31 percent; likely to help drag down overall 2018-2019 harvest

By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Ohio’s two-day oft-called “bonus” firearms deer-hunting season nosed-dived by about 31 percent when compared to the same hunt in 2017.

In all, deer hunters in Ohio shot 9,625 animals during the just-concluded two-day tacked-on firearms season. That figure is 4,490 fewer animals than the 14,115 white-tails that were taken during the 2017 bonus two-day season.

However, it appears that last year’s bonus season’s take of deer is the anomaly, not this year’s deer kill. The 2015 two-day bonus deer kill was 9,447 animals while the 2016 figure was 9,228 animals. The state did not have a bonus season in either 2013 or 2014, though the 2012 two-day December hunt did produce a kill of 14,365 animals.

Ohio Division of Wildlife biologists say that even with the best of a muzzle-loading deer-hunting season it is entirely possible that the total all-seasons deer kill will be down around 10 percent. Last year hunters shot a total of 186,247 animals. Thus, a 10-percent drop would put the 2018-2019 all-seasons’ deer kill number at around 168,000 animals.

If anything, this deer-hunting year has proven a difficult one for hunters; among the problems being a super abundant hard mast crop consisting of white and red oak acorns that kept deer from needing to forage great distances.

Most dramatic in suppressing the deer kill, though, is how both Ohio’s seven-day general season as well as the bonus two-day gun season were each plagued by heavy rains across much to all of the state. Yet where those rains did not occur December 15th and 16th, many hunters did take advantage of the fairer weather – almost exclusively in northwest Ohio – by recording increases in their 2018 bonus season deer kills when compared to their respective 2017 figures.

It was deja vu all over again weather-wise for the bonus season,” said a sighing Scott Peters, wildlife division biologist for the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District Three (Northeast Ohio) Office in Akron.

Snow is good, but rain is not. With a fresh snow especially a hunter can see movement better, and can also see tracks. You can’t do that with rain.”

Clint McCoy, the Wildlife Division’s lead deer biologist, said the impact of the weekend’s rain cannot be ignored nor dismissed as the major contributing factor to the steep decline in the statewide bonus gun season deer kill.

Not when some parts of Ohio saw up to two inches of rain,” McCoy said.

In fact, as of December 17th, there were still some Ohio stream that remained under a flood watch.

An exception to the generally poor hunting caused by the miserable wet weather were several northwest Ohio counties. Of Ohio’s 88 counties, just 15 notched increases in their 2018 bonus season gun hunt deer kills. Nearly all of these counties are in northwest Ohio where rainfall was either absent or very light. Among these counties were Defiance, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Putnam, Williams, Wood and Wyandot, McCoy noted.

Another exception were a number of counties adjacent to Lake Erie. This is where a strong northeast wind flow coming across Lake Erie kept at bay the intense storm that moved up from the southwest. Among these counties were Cuyahoga, Erie, and Lucas.

Ultimately the challenges brought about by the continued weather woes are almost certainly going to result in an all-seasons-ending drop in the deer kill, perhaps by about 10 percent, McCoy also says.

I was hoping to see some bounce back in the harvest with the bonus season but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards,” McCoy said.

Here is a preliminary county-by-county list of the deer kill for the just-concluded 2018 so-called "bonus" firearms deer hunting season (with their respective 2017 figures in parentheses): Adams: 131 (203); Allen: 55 (61); Ashland: 194 (342); Ashtabula: 368 (483); Athens: 170 (246); Auglaize: 66 (55); Belmont: 135 (264); Brown: 116 (172); Butler: 48 (66); Carroll: 224 (412); Champaign: 50 (75); Clark: 32 (48); Clermont: 95 (152); Clinton: 41 (58); Columbiana: 165 (367); Coshocton: 260 (512); Crawford: 82 (103); Cuyahoga: 5 (4); Darke: 49 (48); Defiance: 194 (152); Delaware: 71 (78); Erie: 58 (53); Fairfield: 85 (132); Fayette: 18 (22); Franklin: 10 (35); Fulton: 53 (60); Gallia: 120 (169); Geauga: 113 (111); Greene: 39 (51); Guernsey: 187 (307); Hamilton: 21 (55); Hancock: 89 (74); Hardin: 112 (110); Harrison: 175 (336); Henry: 86 (55); Highland: 142 (191); Hocking: 125 (199); Holmes: 211 (343); Huron: 178 (236); Jackson: 173 (191); Jefferson: 80 (197); Knox: 227 (382); Lake: 23 (40); Lawrence: 69 (91); Licking: 206 (340); Logan: 141 (169); Lorain: 159 (200); Lucas: 23 (13); Madison: 19 (52); Mahoning: 104 (194); Marion: 47 (79); Medina: 117 (188); Meigs: 160 (200); Mercer: 59 (47); Miami: 38 (54); Monroe: 120 (207); Montgomery: 20 (35); Morgan: 117 (214); Morrow: 88 (124); Muskingum: 206 (368); Noble: 132 (211); Ottawa: 20 (38); Paulding: 115 (113); Perry: 118 (213); Pickaway: 47 (62); Pike: 95 (114); Portage: 112 (201); Preble: 65 (82); Putnam: 54 (34); Richland: 222 (306); Ross: 127 (177); Sandusky: 54 (82); Scioto: 105 (184); Seneca: 147 (176); Shelby: 67 (75); Stark: 169 (287); Summit: 33 (41); Trumbull: 226 (321); Tuscarawas: 282 (497); Union: 49 (64); Van Wert: 60 (49); Vinton: 108 (201); Warren: 52 (66); Washington: 131 (213); Wayne: 127 (195); Williams: 168 (132); Wood: 69 (55); Wyandot: 102 (101). Total: 9,625 (14,115).

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn