TOP PHOTO: The ceremony took place on the Brahma Lane Bridge on Monday morning.
PIONEER, TN (WLAF) – The official dedication of two new bridges was on Monday in Elk Valley when many of those who had a hand in making the new structures a reality gathered. “In conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and the Campbell County Highway Department (CCHD), there are now two new bridges that cross Coontail Branch here in Elk Valley,” said Campbell County Road Superintendent Ron Dilbeck.
One of the bridges is on Baker Lane, and the other is a stone’s throw further north on Brahma Lane. Both lanes turn east off Highway 297/Newcomb Pike.
The projects all came about because Coontail Branch is home to the Blackside Dace, a minnow, which is listed as federally threatened wildlife. The Arrow Darter also inhabits Coontail Branch, and it’s state listed as being threatened, according to TWRA Fish Biologist Sally Petre.
“I looked at fish distribution, in the creek-branch, and did a barrier assessment,” said Petre. A severe barrier situation was discovered. The funding was to remove the barrier and improve the Dace’s habitat and connectivity of the stream, according to Petre. She adds that replacing the culvert with a concrete bridge/concrete box was the solution, because it allows more culvert space and more water can flow through it in a more natural way. “It’s a win-win for the fish and the county, because there’s much less flooding there,” said Petre.
“The new bridges were paid with a total of 211,000 federal dollars, and the road department provided an in-kind match with back filling, paving, the approaches and retaining walls,” said Dilbeck, who has built upwards of 15 bridges so far during his tenure. Dilbeck adds that the bridges don’t have a concrete pad making for an open floor for easier flow for the minnows.
“We partner with local and state governments as well as private land owners to enhance and restore habitats for species. This project, the two concrete boxes, was a priority, and we worked with them (The CCHD) to make it happen,” said Dustin Boles. Boles, based out of Cookeville, is a wildlife biologist with Partners for Fish & Wildlife through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Coontail Branch project has been in the works for two or three years, as Boles explains. “It started with the Baird’s Creek bridge construction, our first time working with Mr. Dilbeck,” said Boles.
“We have a good working relationship with Dustin, the TWRA, Jellico Utilities and Greg Green, an engineer with Robert Campbell and Associates,” said Dilbeck. The first such venture with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came in 2019 when a 45-foot long arch bridge was constructed over Baird’s Creek at Capuchin. That is a $300,000 bridge with all those dollars being federal not costing the county anything, added Dilbeck.
“This is now one less problem area when flooding occurs, and that’s a good thing especially for the folks who cross this bridge everyday. I’m very pleased, but I think that Velma, the mail carrier, is probably the most pleased,” said Dilbeck.
The bridges were constructed by Evans & Evans Construction of Caryville, between September and December and had to be finished by December 1, and they were. “They had to be done before the spring spawning season for the Blackside Dace,” said Petre.
November is when the first traffic began crossing the Coontail Branch bridges. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 01/10/2023-6AM)