Bridge concern – Alcova ranchers see concern over weight limits
Alcova – A June 3 letter from the Wyoming Department of Transportation informed the Natrona County Commissioners that Alcova Bridge was in severe need of repairs and that the structure’s severe substructure deterioration meant that the bridge should be posted as having a three-ton limit.
Peg Price of Miles Land and Livestock Co. comments, “There has been a weight restriction of 6,000 pounds posted on the bridge. That presents a major problem for the people living and working on the south side of the river.”
Price and other ranchers cited concerns ranging from transportation to work and school to shipping hay and cattle as reasons for their concern over the dramatically reduced weight limits on the bridge.
Forrest Chadwick, chairman of the Natrona County Commission, and his fellow commissioners have been working diligently since the notice of the weight reduction was sent out to find a solution to the current problem.
“We’ve got emergency access up and over the spillway bridge, but that is limited to 25 tons,” Chadwick says. “Just this week, on June 23, we approved to move forward with the selection of an engineer and the selection of repairs.”
The Alcova Bridge was built in 1953 by the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec). It was turned over to the county shortly after.
“When it was brand new, its highest rating was 29 tons,” Chadwick explains. “There have been 40 ton loads going over that bridge since it was built.”
Chadwick also explains that the bridge is wooden, and continued exposure to alternating water and oxygen have resulted in dramatic deterioration of the structure of the bridge.
“It was downgraded in 2010 to 10 tons, and that was the last inspection until now,” he says. “The bridge was inspected last October, and we just got the written report on June 5. It was written on June 3.”
Options for ranchers
Understanding the gravity of the implications of a decrease in the weight rating of the bridge, Chadwick notes that the Natrona County Commission has been exploring a wide array of options to provide an outlet for farmers and ranchers.
“We have explored many options,” Chadwick says. “We looked at bringing in a temporary bridge, but with maintenance and cost, it is very expensive. That is not a very viable option.”
There have also been discussions about alternative routes, including over the spillway or through Fremont Canyon, but they all come with challenges.
“The spillway bridge is limited to 25 tons, and if anything more goes over that, it may warp the spillway gates so they wouldn’t open and shut,” Chadwick explains. “We are being very careful.”
While the county and BuRec have both exceeded the weights on the bridge in the past, Chadwick notes that all parties recognize that should not have happened and they are making absolutely sure it doesn’t happen again.
Jamie Harkins of Track A Land and Cattle Company commets, “The two roads to get around are not good. The bridge across Fremont Canyon is only rated at 10 tons, and there is a 90-degree corner. It also adds time and miles.”
With limited options for a viable alternative, Commissioners are working to build a new bridge as soon as possible.
Fixing the problem
Chadwick mentions that they will work on developing a temporary fix while also exploring options to build a new bridge.
“After we hire the engineers, they will look at the bridge and give us an assessment to see if there is any wood below the waterline that is good,” he says. “They will also look at how high up on each pile they have to go to find good wood to make temporary repairs.”
He notes that the evaluations will begin within the week the engineers are hired, and temporary fixes will be deployed soon after, but water flow is a big issue.
“It depends on waterflow, because flows of 2,300-2,400 cubic feet per second, as are often seen when they turn the irrigation water on, makes it much more difficult to affect repairs,” Chadwick mentions.
At the same time that they are working on a temporary fix, the Commission is looking toward a long-term solution for a bridge rated at 40 tons that will last a long time.
Ranchers in the area are still very concerned about the potential impacts of not being able to utilize the bridge during their vital haying and shipping seasons.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association, who was contacted by Natrona County ranchers, says, “Many of the area ranching operations span both sides of the river. It is critical to their operations that they are able to transport loads of cattle and feed on this route. The inability to ship load cattle on the south side in the fall and reach truck scales in a timely manner will have a significant cost to these producers.”
Price says that ranchers work through the entirety of the year for only one paycheck, and if they are unable to sell their cattle efficiently to avoid shrink, they see fewer dollars at the market.
Harkins comments, “We have a farm on Highway 220 and live up at Canyon Creek. In the summer, we use the bridge every day to check pivots and move equipment back and forth.”
In addition, Track A Land and Cattle uses the bridge to haul hay out after harvest and to move cattle.
“I am really concerned about shipping season. How are we going to get shipped out this fall? It is more than a major inconvenience for us. There really isn’t an adequate alternate route when it comes to shipping time,” Harkins continues, noting that they require the income for survival.
“There are a bunch of people who live up there, and many of them commute to town five days a week,” she notes. “We all use that bridge.”
“We appreciate that the Commissioners are working to move quickly on this, but we wish that the Commissioners would have considered the needs of the community in 2010 when the bridge was downgraded to 10 tons, or back in 1997 when significant deterioration was noted,” Harkins says. “It should have been fairly obvious, knowing the type of traffic from both the community and the county that the bridge gets that this was a problem. The 10-ton downgrade should have been a major red flag.”
In addition to ranching interests, Price cites school and recreation as taking a hit as a result of the bridge weight rate reduction.
“The school is on the south side of the river and the majority of students are on the north side, but the bus can no longer cross the bridge to deliver students to school,” Price says.
She adds that recreationists who typically use the bridge for access to Alcova Reservoir, Miracle Mile and Seminoe for camping and fishing are also being impacted.
“People coming into the Alcova area to hunt and fish are crucial to the economy and businesses in our tiny community,” Price says.
WSGA further notes, “We urge the Commission act immediately to address the emergency need for a temporary means of access across the river at this location.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.