Saratoga council scrapes ahead with gravel-clearing


Contention swirled once again around plans to remove gravel bars from 200 feet above and below the HWY 130 bridge in Saratoga, with several riverfront property owners saying at the March 15 Saratoga Town Council meeting they felt left out of the decision making process.

This clearing will be done through a Nationwide Number Three permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. Permits of this sort are meant to be used to address maintenance issues around bridges, and the project will be focused on improving navigability and safety for boaters on the river.

Saratoga Director of Public Works Jon Winter was dispassionate and straight-forward in laying out the parameters of the endeavor. His department plans to remove roughly 19,000 cubic yards of gravel from the river by digging two to five feet deep into the bars with equipment rented by the town. Material downstream of the bridge will be moved to John Powell’s property north of the HWY 130 bridge, while material upstream of the bridge will be moved to the Carbon County shop at the intersection of East Spring Avenue and South River Street.

“Hopefully, we can get this bridge work done this spring before run-off,” Winter said.

Local resident and riverfront property owner Bob Thrasher expressed reservations about the logistics, efficacy and limited scope of the gravel-clearing.

Thrasher pointed out that heavy equipment would have to drive over a sewer line running underneath the river in order to remove the bars. He claimed no one knew how deep that sewer line was, or whether it could be safely driven over by a dump truck.

Thrasher was also incensed by the lack of communication between the town and property owners who will likely be effected by the upcoming river work.

Jim States, president of the local Trout Unlimited chapter, echoed this sentiment. States said that while a “river committee” had been formed to deal with such communication issues, the group had been dormant for over a year. The river committee had compiled a list of property owners whom the town should contact in the event of work being done on the river, but this had obviously not been done for the bridge project.

States and Thrasher felt that the gravel-clearing operation didn’t address pressing flood control or bank stabilization issues – a point that the council readily conceded. Councilman Will Faust used the results of a master plan survey to underline the importance of these two issues to Saratoga residents. “it’s flood control and bank stabilization, and that’s it,” he said of resident priorities as measured by the survey.

States said that he had lost 16 feet of property to erosion last year, and that he “will see more erosion whether we have a flood this year or not, and the only question in (his) mind, at this stage, is whether those trees are going to come down on top of (his) buildings.” With concerted action, States said, “We could stop this widening of the channel and building up of the sediment from upstream by structuring it so that it’ll sluice that stuff through.”

Before the town can move forward with these more expansive projects, regulations dictate that a “level one feasibility study” will have to be conducted.

Mayor Ed Glode said that in June of 2015, he had spoken about this with Nephi Cole, Governor Matt Mead’s policy advisor. Cole estimated at the time that the level one study would cost $250,000 to complete, with the state footing a portion of the bill. Additionally, Cole told mayor Glode, it would likely take about four years and five million dollars to complete work on all of the flood abatement and river stabilization measures.

Councilman Faust wondered where the money for this undertaking will come from, with Wyoming strapped for cash. “When we look at what’s coming down from the legislature, you know, they’re keeping funding intact for schools and a lot of other things, but the municipal governments are going to be the ones to deal with the brunt of where commodity prices are right now in this state,” Faust said, referencing the loss of tax revenues from falling oil, gas and coal prices.

After listing the extensive survey work required by the level one study, Thrasher said “This is big. And I’m not sure it’s going to happen in my lifetime, but I think my house is going to flood in my lifetime.” Thrasher seemed frustrated at the prospect of river stabilization efforts stalling out while fish biomass analysis and other studies are conducted.

One thing all parties could see eye-to-eye on was the need to revive the role of the river committee in driving the management of the North Platte through Saratoga. “I agree with firing up the committee again and getting started on this stuff,” Glode said.

Getting riverfront property owners, the town and the state to work together on flood control and bank stabilization efforts is “a complicated process, but we oughtn’t wait until we have a disaster to do it,” States warned.


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