Fish slow bridgework

Published 4:22 pm Wednesday, March 4, 2020

By Diana McFarland


Figuring out when fish want to spawn is tricky business. 

That is why work on the Park-to-Park Trail bridge over Jones Creek has hit the pause button — at least for the pile driving part. 

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There are three types of fish that may select Jones Creek as a place to reproduce, the Alewife and Blueback Herring and Atlantic Sturgeon, according to Trail Project Manager Jamie Oliver. 

All three are anadromous fish, which means they are born in fresh water, but live their lives in salt water and migrate back to fresh water to spawn. 

There is no hard data that any of those types of fish in Jones Creek, due to funding limitations, but it is considered a prime location for that activity, said Oliver. 

The spawning season depends on several factors, such as water temperature, weather and more, so the permit requires a wide window that runs from Feb. 15 to June 15, said Oliver. 

The Time of Year Restriction is part of the project’s permit with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.  {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

These types of restrictions are not uncommon, as northern long-eared bats could have delayed or impacted construction of the Benn’s Church intersection, while barking tree frogs, Mabee’s and eastern tiger salamanders could have done the same for now abandoned plans to build a northern bypass around Windsor as part of the Route 460 expansion, which also did not occur, but it was politics that doomed that project, not the frog or salamanders.  

Those species are either endangered or threatened, hence the added consideration. 

The Atlantic Sturgeon is also considered endangered, while the herring are not, but are considered economically vital in this area and for that reason, protected, said Oliver. 

Work in Jones Creek could affect the fish is two different ways — either killing them outright if they are close enough to the hammer pounding in the piles, said Oliver. 

“Contractors use a method called ‘ramp up, ramp down” to try and minimize this issue. When they first start hammering, they use a half-power, half-speed setting, which creates a smaller disturbance and gives all local fish the opportunity to move away from the operation before the full-power strokes start,” said Oliver. 

Fish will also avoid an area where pile driving is going on, and since their spawning selection is hard-wired, they tend to return to the same area, said Oliver.

If that is disrupted, it could cause future generations to go elsewhere, she said, adding that it could result in good spawning areas going unused. 

This restriction only applies to work in the water. It does not impact work, such as building the bridge decking on piles already in, said Oliver. 

One bridge worker saw the humor in the work being halted for a few months. 

“If you drive across the bridge at night and hear some Barry White, it’s the fish getting jiggy with it,” said the worker, who preferred to remain unnamed. 

The bridge over Jones Creek is the last piece to be completed of the Park-to-Park bike and pedestrian trail and is expected to cost $2.3 million, with another $642,000 for the piles. It will run from Carrollton Nike Park, along Nike Park and Battery Park roads to the intersection with South Church Street in Smithfield. The remaining portion of the trail, which proponents want to connect with downtown Smithfield, is considered a town project and is currently at a standstill. {/mprestriction}