Commissioners meet with engineers, wildlife experts about low-water crossing

By Colin Willard, Staff Writer
Posted 4/19/23

VIENNA — Two engineers and two wildlife experts joined the April 13 Maries County Commission meeting to discuss the unlikelihood of funding a replacement for the low-water crossing on Maries …

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Commissioners meet with engineers, wildlife experts about low-water crossing


VIENNA — Two engineers and two wildlife experts joined the April 13 Maries County Commission meeting to discuss the unlikelihood of funding a replacement for the low-water crossing on Maries Road 409 southeast of Belle.

Last April, Great River Engineering completed a study of the low-water crossing on Maries Road 409 and the Fly Creek Bridge on Maries Road 213 as part of the Bridge Engineering Assistance Program (BEAP) through the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). According to MoDOT, the BEAP is a way for local public agencies to get some limited engineering help to deal with emergency-type issues that they may encounter on their bridges.

According to the report that Great River Engineering submitted after the study, the low-water crossing on Maries Road 409 is a collapsed concrete slab that frequently overtops, including when the company’s engineers visited the site. The crossing is about 20 feet long by 15 feet wide. The report recommended that the county realign the roadway, replace the crossing and add an improved hydraulic capacity to pass under the bridge. The estimated cost at the time was just over $500,000, which the county could not afford without help.

Great River Engineering Vice President and Bridge Team Leader Jeff Banderet attended the April 13 meeting along with Great River Engineering Project Engineer Michael Teel, The Nature Conservancy Nature-Based Solutions Coordinator Rob Pulliam and Jahn Kallis with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) office in Columbia.

The Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that works toward solutions for crises concerning the climate and biodiversity. It operates in 70 countries around the world and all 50 U.S. states.

“My organization has an interest in having better-designed bridges that obviously meet the needs of the community; a safe, dependable, low-maintenance kind of thing,” Pulliam said. “But at the same time, that (bridge) allows for all the critters that live in the creek the ability to go up and downstream. We’re trying to figure out what are the opportunities that work for the communities and then also match up with the funding sources. There’s money there. It’s just a matter about the farthest east that the species goes. At the state level, the Niangua Darter is an endangered species. The federal government recognizes it as a threatened species.

“We know we have darters downstream,” Pulliam said. “We haven’t seen anything for decades upstream. We pull these slabs out, these bridges allow things to go up and down, and now we’re able to document (that) we’re finding Niangua Darters where we’ve never found them before. In this particular case, the Niangua Darter can be a positive to the community because it opens up more doors for funding.”

Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre asked about the Niangua Darter population in Maries County. Pulliam said he had not worked in Maries County for about 20 years, so he was not sure about specifics, but he knew of sightings when he worked in the area. Stratman said that about 10 years ago, researchers had been to his property to look for darters, but he was not sure if they found any.

Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel asked if the project would add a box or a pipe under the water of the crossing to allow water and wildlife to pass underneath.

Banderet said that when building low-water crossings to allow connection between the streams, he wants to design it so the water can pass through at about 50 percent of what the channel normally conveys. Then, the project usually adds gravel to the ground to slow the velocity of the water flow in the creek. Slowing the velocity helps wildlife pass up and down the stream.

“If it’s a 50-feet wide stream, you’re probably looking at a 25-feet minimum opening to be able to convey that,” Banderet said.

Kallis said that after examining Upper Peavine Creek, which Maries Road 409 crosses, he did believe the FWS would aid with funding the bridge replacement.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned with threatened and endangered species, so we look for crossings that might be barriers to fish passage that we’re concerned about,” he said. “That’s usually what we use as our first filter. Projects that are competitive are going to benefit our listed species.”

Kallis said some of Missouri’s competitive FWS projects involve Niangua Darters. Over the last 15 years, the agency has identified 32 crossings in the Niangua Darter’s range and worked to open up those crossings for the darters to pass through. Now that those crossings have opened, the agency is working to identify the next set of Niangua Darter crossings.

Drewel asked if Kallis was familiar with the Maries Road 409 crossing.

Kallis said he was familiar with it, but he did not have any fish collection samples. Because Upper Peavine Creek is so far upstream, he did not expect to find many endangered or threatened species, which means the project would not be competitive for grants from FWS.

“We want to be where the fish are, especially our target species,” he said. “Just because we don’t have fish collections there doesn’t mean the fish is not there, but that’s probably why MDC, who does a lot of these fish collections, wasn’t there. They don’t think it’s there. It’s not a good habitat, so they didn’t look. I wouldn’t expect to see Niangua Darter up that far.”

Pulliam said the crossing is part of the Meramec River Basin, so he knows the Niangua Darter is not there.

Rodgers asked if the only species FWS is looking for is the Niangua Darter.

“No, we mention Niangua Darters because we’re in the neighborhood,” Pulliam said.

He said that though the Niangua Darters are not the only endangered or threatened fish species around, they are notable enough to warrant assistance with bridge funding in the area. In the past, he had helped Osage County and Miller County obtain funding for bridges because they passed over streams where Niangua Darters lived.

“When you start from the feeder creeks that go in the beginning of these stream systems, they’re important, but as far as the kinds of critters that live in them, you don’t have a lot of diversity,” Pulliam said. “The further you get down into a river system, the more diversity typically picks up.”

He said hellbenders and freshwater mussels could be other endangered animals in Maries County streams that could attract funding for bridge projects. Mussels are a notable case because they depend on host fish for reproduction.

“If we could tie it to a species of some sort, whether it’s mussels, the darter, or something, that’s where that competitive (grant) becomes more and more viable,” Kallis said.

“There are lots of different angles you can use to help improve the quality of the creek system that benefits communities and helps the things (that live there),” Pulliam said.

He recommended reaching out to the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) to help identify grants that might assist with the bridge from a public safety angle rather than a conservationist angle. He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also looking at crossings from a public safety perspective.

“This isn’t just about fish or tadpoles or mussels,” Pulliam said. “It’s about infrastructure and community safety.”

Although that particular crossing is unlikely for funding help, Kallis and Pulliam both said they wanted to find funding for projects that would have mutual benefit to conservation and infrastructure.

“What I’m interested in is where can we find common ground,” Kallis said. “What crossings would benefit counties -- your infrastructure, your safety -- and what will benefit fish?”

Pulliam gave the commissioners a list of wildlife infrastructure funding opportunities available through 2026 as part of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Several items on the list applied to fish and fish passage.

Banderet said the commissioners could look to other options for replacing the crossing on Maries Road 409, such as the state Regional Bridge Program. Although low-water crossings are eligible for the program, they are often low-priority choices for funding.

Another suggestion that Banderet had was for the commissioners to compile a list of crossings in the county that they think could be competitive for grants from wildlife agencies. Once they had a list, they could reconnect with him to explore options for the locations.

“If you guys had a list of crossings, I think that would be really valuable so that we can cross-reference,” Kallis said.

“We’ll just have to get a list together, and then we’ll get back with you all,” Drewel said.

Regional Jail

Prosecuting Attorney Tony Skouby stopped by the April 10 meeting. Stratman asked Skouby what he thought about a regional jail.

In March, the commissioners and Deputy Major Scott John attended a meeting at the MRPC office in St. James to discuss the possibility of a regional jail with the sheriffs and some of the commissioners from Osage County and Gasconade County.

“Do we need a jail?” Skouby said. “Yes. Am I convinced that I want to share one with Osage and Gasconade (counties)? No. But we need to do something, and we need to be thinking about that. We are not going to be able to sustain this jail downstairs.”

“You have to get taxes passed before you can do anything, and it isn’t going to happen,” Drewel said.

“We all need to be on the lookout for a grant here and there,” Skouby said. “Anything that can help, but we’re not going to carry ourselves on grants.”

Fagre said he had concerns that once one or more counties changed sheriffs, there could be a power struggle about who was in charge of the jail. A board including the sheriffs and presiding commissioners of the counties involved would run a regional jail.

“There would be ups and downs, but it would be a democracy of sorts,” Skouby said.

“The only way it would work is if Maries County put it in itself,” Drewel said about the jail.

South repeater

Last November, the commissioners asked Skouby to draft a document that would say four entities agreed to split costs for the south repeater in Maries County. Those four entities were Maries County, Maries-Osage Ambulance District (MOAD), Vienna Fire Protection District and Dixon Rural Fire Protection District.

At the April 10 MOAD board meeting, the district’s administrator Carla Butler said she did think Dixon Fire would sign the agreement. Stratman, who is also a member of the MOAD board, said he would take a new agreement to the commissioners that only included MOAD, Maries County and Vienna Fire. If the entities sign the agreement, they will split costs for repeater repairs three ways. The commissioners planned to sign the new agreement.

Hazard Mitigation

Stratman said he attended the April 11 meeting to discuss Maries County’s hazard mitigation plan. The plan focuses on preparing to minimize damage and loss of life in the case of disastrous events. If the county wants to maintain eligibility for some hazard mitigation grants, it must update the plan every five years. The county has until March 5, 2024, to submit its first draft of the plan to the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA).

There is a $32,000 cost to update the plan. Grants will cover $24,000 of that. The county can earn another $3,000 by accruing 111 training hours by residents. Stratman said about 16 people attended the latest meeting to count toward the training hours.