Repairs are coming to the bridge at Cranberry and Schmid roads in Grayland, according to Grays Harbor County engineer Rob Wilson.
The bridge closed in late June after a partial collapse created a hole in the east end of the bridge deck. The county approved a bid from Brumfield Construction out of Westport of just under $50,000 Aug. 8, to make the bridge passable, but delays in receiving critical materials stalled construction for about a month.
Wilson said it’s his understanding repairs were to begin this week and take “four or five days” to complete. If all goes to plan the bridge could be reopened to traffic by Monday.
The canal under the old, narrow bridge, like other old cranberry bog irrigation and drainage ditches in the Grayland area, has long been the target of literally eager beavers, who particularly seem to like the Cranberry Road bridge as a spot to build their dams.
Grays Harbor Drainage District 1 manager Michael Reichenberger and local resident Warren Moore said the beaver dam is at least partly to blame; the footings of the bridge were wooden pilings sitting on the ground, and the water redirected by the beaver dam washed out the old supports and caused the bridge to fail.
Moore and a neighbor, whose family has lived on property just a short distance south of the bridge since the early 1900s, said the lingering high, stagnant water building up since the bridge’s failure has made maintenance of sections of their property near the ditch difficult, if possible at all.
As Reichenberger and former Grays Harbor County Emergency Management deputy director Chuck Wallace explained, high water issues are inevitable in the region, due to its below-sea level status, beaver activity and the flood control mechanics in place.
“The whole system on both ends is controlled by gravity tide gates, so here, starting in late October, November, December, when it starts raining a lot and the tides are high the tides hold the gates shut until the tide gets low enough that the pressure of the fresh water is enough to open the gates,” said Reichenberger. “Once the gates are able to open things do drain pretty fast.”
Wallace said it’s not uncommon for the ditches to flood to the point where houses are threatened. He added that the parking lot of the Grayland post office, just a few yards west of the Cranberry Road Bridge, is prone to flooding during periods of high tides and heavy rains.
Construction delays were due to a lengthy amount of time to get the jacking pipes needed to raise and level the bridge so a new concrete “spread footing” could be formed and poured, said Wilson.
“They are going to lift up the existing slabs and then form up and pour a new spread footing,” he said. “(Jacking pipe piles) are used to the slabs in place so they can form up and pour the spread footing underneath. They are a temporary support until the footing is cured.”
The ditch bottom itself under the new concrete footing will be filled as needed with crushed rock for leveling. Any voids remaining will be filled with rock, according to Sergeant Engineering, the firm that designed the plans for the project.
The current bridge sat atop 12-by-12-by-48-inch timber sills — interlocking wood beams. These will be removed by the contractor and replaced with a concrete footing — the spread footing — reinforced with rebar.
Once the new concrete footing has set, the existing timber cap and concrete slabs of the bridge deck will be lowered into place. The timber cap will be bracketed into the footing, and the jack piles will be used to lower the bridge back into place. While jack piles are often removed after a project like this, Wilson said the six being used here will remain in place, drilled to where the tip is about 50 feet below the surface, adding some additional stability to the bridge. The existing hole in the bridge deck on the east end will be filled.
The burrowing rodents are problematic throughout the drainage districts in the Twin Harbors, according to Reichenberger. The drainage districts contract with licensed trappers to deal with problem areas, but when one or two are taken care of, others take their place.
“It’s usually good for a year or two before they come back” after removing beavers from choke points in the canals, said Reichenberger. “But in the last couple of years it seems like as soon as we get rid of one or two, three or four show up.”
Just who is responsible for clearing the drainage ditches has been a source of confusion for locals, but both Reichenberger and Wilson indicate when it comes to beaver dams and other obstructions under the bridges, which are on county roads, it is the county that is responsible — for liability reasons. In other stretches of the miles of ditches, those not under the bridges, it’s up to the drainage district to keep them clear.
Beaver control digs into the drainage district’s limited funding. According to Reichenberger, the average landowner pays about $6 a year in property tax enhancements to fund the district, which gives him about $10,000 annually to work with. About a third of that goes toward insurance, the rest to maintaining the ditches that feed the local cranberry bogs. Considering the system was constructed in 1914, that means a lot of the maintenance for the aging drainage ditch system falls on district managers, who often find themselves doing the work and funding that work themselves, according to Reichenberger.
“Sure, it could be a better system, but then we’d have to jack up the taxes,” he said, saying a lot of the money spent on beaver control and other maintenance is borne by the irrigation district managers themselves.
Tsunami route concerns
The Cranberry Road bridge is one of a couple of tsunami evacuation routes in the region. Locals have expressed concern about the temporary loss of one of the routes, but as Wallace pointed out, the bridge over the creek less than a mile south on Grange Road is still passable, as is a wider, newer bridge just a few hundred feet to the north.
Regardless, if all goes to plan, the Cranberry Road bridge will be open to traffic soon, and flows should return to normal in the ditch, according to sources.