The twin bridges that spanned the Pine River along Bayfield Parkway are gone, dismantled and taken away, allowing work to proceed to replace them with two new bridges. The project will also include a shared use pathway under the new structure, connecting Bayfield's two major parks without users having to cross vehicle traffic. None of that could have happened without a federal government-approved agreement to address the project's impact on existing wetlands at or near the new bridge location.
"The wetlands mitigation plan approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was actually an integral part of the entire bridge and path project," said Chris LaMay, Bayfield Town Manager. "It had to be approved and underway before any demolition or construction activities could take place. It will continue to be implemented concurrently with construction activities at the bridge site."
In essence, the mitigation plan identified how much the project would impact nearby wetlands and how that impact, temporarily or permanently, would be eased.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which has primary say over "all things water" in the United States, accepted the town's plan to purchase wetland habitat and stream habitat credits from the Animas River Wetlands Mitigation Bank in Durango. That cost $42,000.
The Corps required Bayfield to construct and maintain appropriate new acreages of wetlands as near as possible to the impacted site. Because the Pine River Corridor is considered to be critical habitat for an endangered bird, the Southwest Willow Flycatcher, the new wetlands acreage had to be twice as large as the impacted acreage. Studies determined that the town-owned Little Pine River Park, a few hundred yards north of the bridge site, would be the best place to do that.
Through normal budgeting processes, the Town of Bayfield created a $10,000 reserve fund to cover its 20-percent responsibility for construction and maintenance activity at Little Pine Park. In addition, the town will appropriate $2,500 per year for monitoring to ensure that the new wetlands are successful in the opinion of the Army Corps.
While the bridge construction is obvious to most Bayfield residents, the activity at Little Pine Park is not. But for residents of "The Island", that land along West North Street that is bound by the Pine River to the west and south and by the Little Pine to the east and north, what's going in Little Pine Park has been very evident.
They've seen the big dump trucks squeezing their way down the 10-foot wide easement that serves as a path and nature walk from West North Street to Riverside Park along Highway 160 to the north. The trucks were removing dirt excavated to help create the new wetlands area in Little Pine Park. The excavation took the new wetlands ground down to a level approximately one foot above the water table. Vegetation, primarily willow trees, will be planted there. The soil from the approximately three-foot deep excavation was taken to use at the bridge site.
"To me, all this human activity is kind of taking the nature out of the nature walk," said Ric Lott, an island resident for 42 years.
LaMay says the path will remain open through the mitigation process, but there could be some temporary closures as truck traffic comes and goes.
Bessie Haddock who, along with her husband Chap, has lived on the island for 45 years, was more vocal when asked about the mitigation project.
"I think it's stupid," she said. "I hear it's to make more wetlands. Why do we need more wetlands? They're not disturbing that much wetlands over by the bridge." Blame that on the Army Corps' requirement of a two-to-one ratio of wetlands created to wetlands disturbed.
"I am also concerned if there's no inlet and outlet for new wetlands water," Haddock added. "Standing water means more mosquitoes and we've got quite enough of them already." LaMay says the town cannot guarantee there will never be standing water in the new area, but he expects the new wetlands will be very similar to the terrain existing just to the east of the Little Pine, on "The Continent", if you will.
The monitoring requirements to ensure that growth takes place and invasive species do not take root at Little Pine Park will be in effect for at least five years or until the Army Corps is satisfied, but LaMay notes that the agreed-upon conservation easements will exist in perpetuity. In his words, "This will be a project that lives."