Project of the Year: Massive Shine Creek Culvert Fish Passage

Port Ludlow, Washington

Updating transportation infrastructure means more than replacing aging roads and bridges in the State of Washington. Other considerations come into play. A threatened salmon and steelhead population. Sport fishing tourism. Climate resiliency. And a federal injunction tied to fishing rights reserved in Native American tribal treaties.

All these factors are embodied in the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Fish Passage Program. Jensen Precast plays a key role in this multiyear initiative as a supplier of precast concrete culvert systems to protect and rejuvenate a sensitive ecosystem.

In recent years the Jensen Precast facility in Puyallup, Washington, has produced dozens of culvert systems to restore critical fish migration through inland waterways. In 2023 one of these projects, Shine Creek, cast a spotlight on the enormity of WSDOT’s commitment and the broad scale some of these restorations can take.

Located near the Puget Sound community of Port Ludlow, Washington, Shine Creek is one of hundreds of WSDOT projects aimed at restoring fish passage by replacing small, deteriorating culvert pipes with modern, environmentally focused systems.

Installed in August 2023, the Shine Creek system features massive components, with three-sided box culvert placed atop precast concrete stem wall footings. Each culvert section is 18’ wide with an inside span of 17’. The stem wall and culvert together rise 16’ when assembled. The overall length of the culvert is 127’. Each culvert unit weighs a hefty 45,646 pounds.

“It’s probably one of the biggest structures we’ve built in quite a while,” says Brandon Wiltzius, Jensen Precast Puyallup Project Manager.

The before and after photos show a dramatic transformation from a rusted pipe surrounded by vegetation to a wide-open streambed. “It was just a tiny little culvert pipe,” Wiltzius says. “The fish couldn’t get up or down, so there was a total blockage of their habitat upstream.”

For 2023, Jensen Precast honored its Puyallup facility with a Project of the Year Award. The recognition was well deserved.

Massive Precast Culvert Passage

Located near the Puget Sound community of Port Ludlow, Shine Creek is one of two culvert systems Jensen Precast produced in 2023 along the East Jefferson County waterway, opening a combined five miles of upstream habitat.

“Each fish passage is unique,” says Tim Nyhus, General Manager for Jensen Precast Pacific Northwest. “It depends on a lot of different things. The amount of cover going over the structure, the hydraulics, and all kinds of considerations for the stream. What is the culvert replacing, as far the volume of water, and what’s on top of the structure?”

In this case, the Shine Creek culvert needed to be massive.

Seton Construction in Port Townsend, Washington, partnered with Jensen Precast as contractor on Shine Creek and the nearby project at Swansonville Creek.

“Both structures were pretty large,” says Gairrett Orelup, Seton Construction Project Manager. “As far as culverts go, they were very sizeable. We excavated about 47’ deep and needed to add about 20’ of fill over the tallest portion of the culvert.”

Seton Construction and Jensen Precast have teamed up on other fish passage culverts in recent years. “From past experiences the product that Jensen produces is really the best we’ve seen as far as quality of these precast pieces,” Orelup says. “These were cast in a way that we had no issues when we were setting them.”

Injunction Accelerates Restoration

Kim Rydholm, WSDOT Fish Passage Delivery Manager, says her agency has been addressing the salmon and steelhead passage issues since the early 1990s, creating a dedicated fish passage program. After years of litigation, the US District Court, acting in response to a request by 21 Northwest Washington tribes, ruled that the State of Washington has a treaty-based duty to preserve fish runs.

“The court injunction significantly accelerated the fish barrier correction work we were doing,” Rydholm says. “There are about 1,000 barriers subject to the injunction and over 1,100 miles of blocked habitat of those structures that we started with in 2013.

“The injunction required that we restore access to 90 percent of the blocked habitat by 2030. As of June 2024, WSDOT will have restored access to about 50 percent of the blocked habitat in the Puget Sound region under the federal injunction.”

So far, $3.9 billion has been allocated to meet the 2030 goal, but that’s still not enough.

“We need additional funding from the legislature to accomplish all that work,” Rydholm explains. “It’s quite a large program, but we have identified the need for about $3.5 to $4 billion more to meet the terms of the injunction.”

Restoring Access to Habitat

As for the Shine Creek culvert replacement, Rydholm says the massive size of the culvert provides an important side-benefit of wildlife connectivity.

The natural fill material on either side of the stream serves as an invitation for wildlife to pass through rather than walking across the highway above it. This outcome will create safer conditions for both motorists and animals for years to come, since the new structures are built to last at least 75 years.

“We’re really proud of the work that we’re doing to restore access to habitat and really appreciate the industry too,” Rydholm says, “because we recognize there is an unprecedented need for structures right now in order to deliver our program. So we really appreciate all the work from the industry in helping us with this huge feat.”

Jensen Precast offers end to end solutions for environmentally focused projects with complex demands. Contact us today at (775) 352-2700 to get started on your next project.

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