Bridge to the Future

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2007

go out and look in the rain gauge and see half an inch of rain,” said Kemna. “When you would get down to that bridge there would be water running over it and my bottoms maybe half full of water.”

The back-ups had several unexpected consequences. One was flooding of the southern approach to the bridge. The saturated roadbed became dangerous to drive on, worsening traffic delays and adding to maintenance costs.

Not being able to get across the bridge was not the worst of it for Kemna and Ambrose. When fast-moving floodwater reached the temporary lake created by the bridge, it slowed down, and all the sediment it was carrying settled out. After a few rains, the creek bed was full of sand and gravel.

“Thank the Lord the creek only got three-quarters bank full once,” said Kemna. “If it had been like some years, when the creek got out in the bottoms two or three times, there would be so much gravel up in there you couldn’t deal with it. It was just a matter of time until we had a 2-inch rain and my bottom land was flooded and I lost my hay and crops.”

The floods set back Ambrose’s hard-won conservation progress, too. His erosion-control structures needed the creek’s current to work. They were useless in standing water, so he was losing ground again.

The surrounding community lost out, too. A traditional swimming hole where families had come for generations filled up with gravel. Fish no longer could migrate upstream in the spring after spending the winter in deep pools downstream. As a result, smallmouth bass and most other game fish virtually disappeared from Little Tavern Creek upstream from the bridge. Ambrose no longer saw people wading upstream with fishing rods.

Meanwhile, the Miller County Commission had problems that went beyond bridge maintenance and angry constituents. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates development along streams, said the bridge was illegal and ordered the county to remove it. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service noted that the bridge was bad for the Niangua darter, a fish classified as threatened by federal officials. With no money for a solution, the county was between a rock and a wet place.

Ambrose was upset, but he knew that beating up the county would not solve the problem. Instead, he called a meeting at the bridge. One rainy day in March 2004, 25 people gathered to

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