David Burnett, chairman of the Chehalis Tribe, on Thursday presented the virtually complete Sickman Ford Overflow Bridge, infrastructure intended to mitigate flooding on South Bank Road near Oakville.
The bridge was opened to the public on Tuesday.
Once a temporary detour road is removed — a task that shouldn’t take more than a few days — the Sickman-Ford Bridge will be complete, Burnett said.
Placed out of the ordinary flow of the nearby Chehalis River, the bridge is designed to allow floodwaters to flow through an area previously blocked by fill. The location of the bridge and the culvert were chosen specifically to reconnect two historic flood flow channels, according to a description of the project provided by the tribe.
Though not associated with the largest floods, the area southeast of Oakville still is prone to occasional water damage. During past floods, water pooled around the raised portion of South Bank Road, eventually leading to faster flooding and greater damage. Several times, local residents were stranded.
The tribe received $2.3 million from the state’s 2012 Jobs Now Act for the project.
The Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority, the tribe and the state Office of Financial Management signed off on the project in February and construction began in April.
Meticulous hydrology allowed the tribe to choose a cost-efficient model: a 350-foot bridge designed to have about 90 percent of the benefits of a 1,500-foot bridge, at only 20 percent of the price, Burnett and his brother, construction manager Steve Burnett, said during Thursday’s presentation of the project.
Oakville Public Works Director Dan Thompson said the tribe’s hydrology work assuaged the fears of property holders downstream of the bridge.
“The downstreamers looked twice saying, ‘How much water are we going to have to eat?’ but it’s hardly anything,” Thompson said about the floodwater that will drain into empty farmland. “It’s not going to go more than a mile down.”
The new design may, in fact, benefit the property owners, according to Burnett.
“This is going to let water through earlier, which can shave the flooding peak a little,” he said.
Representatives from the city of Oakville on Thursday thanked Burnett and the tribe for the project that primarily benefits the city.
“There have been some interesting lessons here. It wasn’t intuitive, but with the work they were doing … we all went, ‘Oh we hadn’t thought about it that way.’ Some really good learning over the last few years,” Thompson said. “It all makes sense and I think there’s some hope.”
“It’s nice to have one project on the books,” Burnett said.