Town gears up to remove gravel bar, deliberates on Boozer Creek

 


Although prospects for a long-term river revitalization effort dominated early proceedings at a Nov. 9 meeting on the state of the Platte flowing through town, more pressing plans were also discussed by attendees. The second half of the three-hour meeting was devoted to hashing out the details of two projects officials hope to tackle before spring run-off.

The more immediate of these two enterprises is a gravel bar removal project Saratoga Mayor Ed Glode said the town “hope(s) to be done by Christmas.” Removing gravel bars in the Platte River moving through town has long been on the wish list of some town officials.

In April, the town received a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Nationwide Permit Number 33 to remove gravel bars within 200 feet of the HWY 130 bridge. Trout spawning season and then the arrival of high water prevented work from being done at that time, however.

According to USACE Wyoming Regulatory Office Engineer Tom Johnson, the town contacted his office Oct. 12 for permission to do a more extensive gravel removal operation.

“We’ve been holding that for a few weeks,” Johnson said, explaining that the USACE had known that the Nov. 9 meeting was in the works. After some intra-agency discussion Johnson also concluded that a different way forward may be possible.


“There are ways in which the town could go in and do this without a permit,” Johnson said of the bar-removal operation proposed. Sidestepping time-intensive permitting requirements would allow for the operation to be started within two to three weeks, Johnson estimated. Saratoga would have to carefully abide by restrictions on how the work could be conducted, however, he warned.

“Method (of removal) is the key,” Johnson said. The USACE regulates dredge or fill material, he explained, but that does not encompass “incidental fallback,” or small amounts of debris that can fall out of a bucket or shovel during the course of transport. “If all you do is scoop (the material) put it in a truck and drive it out, that is not a regulated activity,” he said. “There’s no redeposit into the river. No raking (material) into a pile or pushing it into a pile before you remove it.”

Johnson said his office was writing a letter to the town that will “describe specifically how you can remove that sediment in a way that only results in incidental fallback.” He stressed several times, though that “If the town puts any material back in the river, the entire operation is regulated.” He also asked decision makers “to fully consider the consequences of anything that’s done, because, as someone mentioned, there’s other adverse effects, potentially, on fisheries.”

Asked for specific project details, Glode said the town had obtained long-awaited volumetric data about the size of the bars. After taking measurements using a drone flight and cross-section surveys, Glode said the amount of material to be removed was believed to be around 6,000 cubic yards.

Director of public works John Winter said the town plans on constructing a temporary dam connecting the bar to the east bank of the Platte while work is conducted, so stirred-up dredge material does not flow downstream. According to Glode, the bar is to be dredged to a depth of about one foot below the water line.

Both Glode and Winter declined to provide estimates of how much the operation would cost. When pressed, the mayor did say the town expected the price tag to be less than $100,000 however. The project will be going to bid the week of Nov. 14, he said.

An unauthorized headgate on land owned by the Silver Spur Ranch posed a more multidimensional problem. The “Boozer Creek Diversion” lying beyond the headgate was breached this year during high-water, and though the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security deployed sandbags to the area, Guy Cameron, the agency’s head, described that solution as “a band-aid fix.”

“If the diversion fails, there’s citizens in town that will have problems,” Glode said. Glode also noted that an official from the USACE had told him if a culvert underneath the headgate is compromised, “the devastation (will be) anyone’s guess at that point.”

Other entities also have a vested interest in whatever work is done, including the Saratoga, Encampment Rawlins Conservation District, which could be involved in executing a project, Silver Spur Ranch, which owns the property and headgate, and Carbon County, which could exercise jurisdiction in the area which lies outside town limits.

“We have to figure out the nuts and bolts here,” Carbon County Commissioner Sue Jones said during discussions. When told by Deputy Wyoming State Engineer Rick Deuell that work done on the headgate would require a permit from his office, in addition to permission from the owners of Silver Spur Ranch, Jones asked a series of rhetorical questions:

“Where do we start? How do we fix this? Who can help us fix this?–Because we have to fix this.”

Questions of jurisdiction, legality and protocol aside, Jones said, “We’re burning daylight here.”

Jeff Streeter, of Trout Unlimited, said trying to put an engineered plan in place to address the issue by 2017 would be “very ambitious.”

Carbon County Emergency Management Coordinator John Zeiger said the sandbags protecting the diversion were deteriorating rapidly, and Colton Miller, representing Silver Spur Ranch, said he would talk with his superiors about allowing work to be done on the headgate.

 

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