Courtesy Photo / Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition 
Workers replace a failed log culvert with a small foot bridge over Switzer Creek in a project funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with some materials provided by the Alaskan Brewing Company. The federal government on Thursday announced an additional $1 billion in grants is being made available during the next five years for culvert repairs in areas where fish passage is blocked.

Courtesy Photo / Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition Workers replace a failed log culvert with a small foot bridge over Switzer Creek in a project funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with some materials provided by the Alaskan Brewing Company. The federal government on Thursday announced an additional $1 billion in grants is being made available during the next five years for culvert repairs in areas where fish passage is blocked.

Cash flow: $1B in fed funds for freer fish

Grants to replace culverts impeding streams available to tribal, local and state governments

“Why did the fish cross the road” sounds like the setup for a groan-inducing punchline, but since another $1 billion to help them do it is being provided by the federal government it’s no joke.

The funding will be available for tribal, local and state local governments seeking to remove and repair culverts under roads that can prevent fish passage, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Thursday during an event in Washington state. The program stemming from last year’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law is scheduled to allocate $200 million to applicants during each of the next five years.

“With this investment, we’re helping protect local economies that count on healthy fisheries and also make key roads less prone to flooding,” Buttigieg said. “This first-in-its-kind effort will begin to address the longstanding challenges posed by existing culverts for fishing and tribal communities, from the Pacific Northwest to the low-lying communities in the southeast.”

While Buttigieg’s “southeast” wasn’t referring to the Alaska panhandle, there are literally hundreds of “red pipes” in the region the U.S. Forest Service has identified as needing replacement, said Katie Rooks, environmental policy analyst for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. While Forest Service officials sought to do six such repairs last year, only two ended up being completed reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think they can do more than single digits each year because it’s complex,” she said.

Long lists of culvert repair projects exist at the federal, state, tribal and local levels due to the pipes getting clogged or unable to handle higher water flow levels, a situation worsening in many areas due to more extreme conditions caused by climate change according to the DOT’s online overview of the new grant funding. Many repair projects, in addition to allowing freer fish passage, seek to make the culverts more resilient to increasing flooding.

Among those directly involved with identifying and assisting with the coordination of restoration projects is the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition, whose current culvert undertakings include a bridge in Gustavus that was recently repaired, a private driveway in Douglas and another bridge project pending in Klawock that tops the priority list, said Rob Cadmus, the organization’s executive director.

“It’s part of a really important subsistence watershed,” he said. The current culvert is “blocking more than a mile of sockeye salmon spawning habitat.”

The cost of projects can range from roughly $100,000 for a small forestry road in an undeveloped area to a repair under a major freeway crossing a large stream that might cost the entire amount of the new federal program, Cadmus said. As would be expected in a largely rural/remote state, Alaska’s list of projects falls on the lower end of that scale.

Priority will be given to projects that improve passage for fish listed as endangered or threatened species (or have a reasonable chance of being classified as such), that are prey for endangered species, are climate-resilient, and/or open up more than 200 meters of upstream habitat, according to the program’s website.

The application deadline is Feb. 6, 2023.

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

Courtesy Photo / Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition 
An undersized culvert that was a barrier to fish is replaced with a small bridge in Gustavus last month. The project was a joint undertaking by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the city of Gustavus.

Courtesy Photo / Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition An undersized culvert that was a barrier to fish is replaced with a small bridge in Gustavus last month. The project was a joint undertaking by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the city of Gustavus.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Jan. 29

President Joe Biden talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, after returning from an event in Baltimore on infrastructure. (AP Photo / Susan Walsh)
Biden to end COVID-19 emergencies on May 11

The move would formally restructure the federal coronavirus response.

Eaglecrest Ski Patrol received a report of an avalanche in closed terrain in the East Bowl Chutes at 10:10 a.m. Thursday. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)
David Holmes digs through a pile of boardgames during Platypus Gaming’s two-day mini-con over the weekend at Douglas Public Library and Sunday at Mendenhall Public Library. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Good times keep rolling with Platypus Gaming

Two-day mini-con held at Juneau Public Library.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Juneau man indicted on child pornography charges

A Juneau man was indicted Thursday on charges of possessing or accessing… Continue reading

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Juneau’s municipal and state legislative members, their staff, and city lobbyists gather in the Assembly chambers Thursday meeting for an overview of how the Alaska State Legislature and politicians in Washington, D.C., are affecting local issues.
Local leaders, lawmakers and lobbyists discuss political plans for coming year

Morning meeting looks at local impact of state, national political climates.

This photo shows pills police say were seized after a suspicious package was searched. (Juneau Police Department)
Police: 1,000 fentanyl pills, 86 grams of meth seized

Juneau man arrested on felony charges.

Most Read