Bridge to the Future

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2007

look at the problem and discuss solutions. The crowd included all three county commissioners, state and federal legislators or their representatives, the St. Elizabeth school superintendent and representatives of the Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Conservation Department. The Tuscumbia Autogram-Sentinel sent a reporter.

“That meeting did nothing beyond generating interest and awareness,” said Ambrose. “All that was going to happen was that the Corps was going to keep slamming Miller County, which was nonproductive. Without Greg [Stoner] it would have ended right there.”

Stoner thought he saw a way out of the cycle of bad fixes, worse outcomes and legal nightmares. He knew grants were available to eliminate barriers to fish passage, especially where endangered species were present, and to help landowners with stream conservation. The Missouri Department of Transportation had funds to help counties replace bridges. If all those resources could be brought to bear on Massman slab, a true solution might be possible.

“The whole thing depended on the presence of the Niangua darter in close proximity to the bridge site,” said Stoner. Historic records showed the darters once lived there, and recent Conservation Department surveys had found them just below Massman slab. That meant Stoner might be able to get a federal fish-passage grant. However, getting a federal grant was out of the question with legal action pending against the county.

“I asked the Corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service, ‘Can you just drop the violations if you are sure it is going to be fixed?’” The federal agencies agreed.

Stoner went to work, finding $137,000 in grants from the Fish and Wildlife Services Osage Basin Restoration Grant Program. Another $107,000 came from the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund administered by the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. Miller County contributed $48,000 in cash and in-kind contributions and applied to the Missouri Department of Transportation for credit totaling 80 percent of the new bridge’s cost for other bridge work through the Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation program.

All that help allowed the county to hire an engineering firm to design the bridge. The collaboration wasn’t over yet, however.

“The engineers wanted to give us a 30-foot span,” said Kemna. “When that creek is bank full it’s about 100 feet wide and 8 or 10 feet deep. Those of us who have lived here awhile knew 30 feet wasn’t enough, so we held out for more. We ended up getting 90 feet.”

The large opening below the new bridge, coupled with a sturdy design and careful alignment of the structure, now lets flood waters pass freely through or over it. The bottom is at creek-bed level, allowing fish to migrate upstream and downstream at will.

Since the bridge was installed, the frequency and severity of flooding on Little Tavern Creek have decreased. Fishing and swimming holes already are beginning to reappear. Stoner said smallmouth bass and other fish have moved back into Ambrose’s and Kemna’s stretch of the creek. “I would venture to say that it is just a matter of time before we find a Niangua darter upstream from the bridge,” said Stoner. “Things are as they should be.”

Miller County Presiding Commissioner Tom Wright took office in 2003, near the end of the Massman slab saga. Standing atop the new bridge last summer, he noted how important it is to have a reliable bridge.

“It’s a long way out to Highway 52 from here when you can’t use the bridge,” he said. “We’ve had problems here forever. I’m glad this one worked out.”

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