By Ann Jantz, wyo4news.com
Rock Springs, Wyoming — Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo announced on Oct. 3 the city was successful in acquiring $3.8 million in Abandoned Mine Lands funding from the State Loan and Investment Board in Cheyenne, for Phase I of the Bitter Creek Reconstruction Project.
“With the city’s match of $1,092,249, that gives us close to $4.9 million to get started on this construction early next spring,” Kaumo posted on the city’s Facebook page. “I’m very excited to get started on this project once again! It will be great for our city, especially the downtown area.”
The Bitter Creek Reconstruction Plan and Design for the three miles of Bitter Creek that bisects Rock Springs dates back to 2007, with planning beginning as far back as 2003, according to Kaumo.
The main purpose of the reclamation and restoration project is to clean and reconstruct the creek channel so that it can better contain flood water. Additionally, the cleanup will mean properties now in the flood plain can be removed from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Flood Insurance Rate Map.
With the FIRM designation comes restrictions and costly flood insurance premiums. It is believed the Bitter Creek restoration will open up the potential for development on properties that were previously considered a costly risk.
“The Plan will also set a framework for transforming the long-neglected eyesore into a green corridor that links neighborhoods with each other and downtown, and provides a pleasant and inviting pathway system accented with gathering places, seating places, and plazas,” the 2007 plan reads. “The creek corridor will be cleaned, planted with native riparian and upland vegetation, and over time will establish Bitter Creek as a community asset and positive reflection on the community.”
The master plan area includes the Bitter Creek corridor from the South Side Belt Route roadway bridge on the east side of Rock Springs to the confluence of Sweetwater Creek just west of the Plaza Mall.
The length of the corridor is approximately three miles and includes several roadway bridge crossings and pipe crossings, as well as a variety of conditions within the channel and adjacent to it.
Done In Phases
The restoration project will happen in four phases. Kaumo said the Phase I portion of the project consists of the intersection of Bitter Creek and Sweetwater Creek and easterly up to the bridge on the Belt Route.
“Basically, the entire section behind the Plaza Mall. It will include a total reconstruction of the creek channel, reworking of utility crossings and creation of a less restrictive channel that will allow water to flow more easily. A maintenance path will also be constructed next to the creek to allow us to maintain the channel,” he said.
Kaumo noted that Phases II through IV consist of the same as Phase I in regards to reconstruction and will happen in the following areas:
- Phase II: From the Belt Route Bridge near Choptstix to the next bridge easterly at Dewar Drive.
- Phase III: From the Dewar Drive Bridge to approximately the North Street bridge.
- Phase IV: From the North Street bridge to the east end of the project at the Belt Route crossing the creek and railroad tracks near Rock Springs High School.
Timeline and Funding
Kaumo is in it for the long haul. He admits the project is far from done but is confident it can be accomplished with smart, creative planning.
“It took several years to secure the first $4.5 million for the necessary studies, permitting and design which included building two detention ponds upstream from tributaries of the Bitter Creek,” he said. “It will take years to complete this large project, but we can’t wait for the Calvary to save us; we have to be the Calvary and save ourselves here.”
Many different options for funding are being considered for Phases II through IV, which, according to Kaumo, may also include private participation and local businesses to assist.
The city is also investigating Army Corps of Engineers assistance, FEMA grants, Brownfields Grants and many other options in order to get this project completed. In addition, the city will pursue any available AML/SLIB funding that may become available in the future, Kaumo added.
Changing Public Perceptions
Since creating green space within the city is part of the project, changing public perceptions about the desirability of being around Bitter Creek is part of the deal.
Kaumo believes it is a “build it and they will come” scenario.
He agreed Bitter Creek has a long history of being known for its uncleanliness, “thus the name,” and admitted “it will never be a Blue Ribbon stream.” However, he is confident cleaning it up will not only make it safer in terms of flooding but will make it a valuable asset in terms of how the community looks and attracting residents outdoors.
“(I)t will be much cleaner and eventually achieve our goals of protecting our citizens during torrential storms and removing the vast majority of this area from the floodway/flood plain so flood insurance is not mandatory and economic development can be achieved,” he said. “I believe once completed and pathways are installed in the future so one could bike or walk safely and peacefully visiting several parks along the way, the project will itself change the perception of what the creek has always been labeled and that it can be a desirable place.”
“We have a long road ahead but a good start,” Kaumo added.