Bethel small boat harbor launch ramp project slowed by high water and coffer dam issues

by Ben Matheson on November 4, 2013

Flooded coffer dam on Sunday, November 3, 2013. Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK

Flooded coffer dam on Sunday, November 3, 2013. Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK

With freeze up on the horizon, work is at a standstill to replace the small boat harbor’s launch ramps before ice complicates work. Crews with Denali Drilling have installed a coffer dam to be pumped out and create a dry space to work. Right now the south launch dam is completely submerged.

Ron Pichler is President of Denali Drilling. He says that’s because of the unexpected high water levels.

“There’s not a problem with the coffer dam, it’s built as designed to hold back the predicted water levels Bethel normally has this time but right now it’s way under designed for the 6 to 8 feet that’s in there currently,” said Pichler.

The soils on and around the launch are saturated, which prevents them from running a compactor to make a solid platform for the large precast concrete planks. Pichler says he’s hoping the weather gives crews a break to restart work soon.

Peter Williams is Bethel’s Port Director. He says the dam is not adequate.

“High water here is something that happens quite regularly,” said Williams. “I think that should have been taken that into account when they were constructing this coffer dam. I think the biggest problem has been they didn’t go out and get suitable material for building a coffer dam. In other words they didn’t go out and buy what was needed for it. They took whatever they could find and basically tried to build a coffer dam and it wasn’t adequate to do the job.”

The work is required to be done by the first of December under the contract with the Army Corps of Engineers. There are consequences if the work is not done on time. Denali is asking for an extension of the deadline. Peter Williams says the city opposes any extension.

Army Corps Project Manager Melanie Peterson says freeze up shouldn’t necessarily derail the project.

“If for some reason work is not complete before freeze up, in order to obtain the compaction we need, the contractor does have what we call winter construction techniques to continue work even after freeze up to complete the project on time.”

The 2.4 million dollar project included dredging the harbor to 5 feet below mean low water. That was completed this April. The North launch ramp is still in place but will be replaced. Only one ramp can be out at a time to allow people to access the harbor.

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