Corps awards $112 million contract for nation’s largest fish passage facility

Published March 15, 2018

SEATTLE – A contract to build the largest trap-and-haul fish passage facility in the nation was awarded by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials here March 14, 2018.

The project will transport Endangered Species Act-listed and other fish around Mud Mountain Dam near Buckley, Washington. Kiewit Infrastructure West Company’s $112 million bid and construction plan for project completion by December 2020 earned it the contract award.

“The contractor’s ability to quickly construct an operational facility was one of the primary evaluation criteria,” said Seattle District Senior Project Manager Leah Hauenstein. “We expect mobilization for construction to begin in May.”

The Corps is pursuing an aggressive schedule to minimize risk to ESA-listed species. Recent years have seen large increases in the White River Chinook run. The 2017 count was 16,271, a 174 percent increase over 2016’s 9,347 total, which was the best seen in 71 years of return records.

With historical lows of only a few dozen Chinook 20 years ago, officials believe recent rebounds are results of collaborative efforts in managing ESA-listed fish and designated critical habitat by officials from the Corps, NOAA Fisheries, Muckleshoot and Puyallup Indian Tribes, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

For the Corps’ part, officials recently made operational changes at the dam as a result of NOAA Fisheries’ 2014 Biological Opinion, referred to as a BiOp. Corps and NOAA officials worked together discussing details about dam operations before NOAA issued the BiOp, and its recommendations for some major improvements in the dam’s fish passage operations. The fish passage facility this contract will build is the most significant of the recommendations and was also included in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s March 2015 BiOp.

The Corps’ regional design team for this massive project included more than 150 employees from three Corps districts and two architecture and engineering firms. Several regional stakeholders also collaborated in the design, including the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Cascade Water Alliance and National Marine Fisheries Service.

Mud Mountain Dam is an earthen, rock-filled structure built by the Corps in 1948 for flood risk management, which also provides for fish passage. The project protects more than 400,000 homes and businesses along the White and Puyallup river valleys, between Buckley and Tacoma, Washington.

During dam construction, the Corps also built a trap-and-haul facility in 1941. It captures salmon and transports them upstream past the dam. It is inadequate by today’s standards to move the ESA-listed Puget Sound Steelhead, Puget Sound Chinook, and Coastal-Puget Sound and Coastal Bull Trout. The facility will also move non-listed Coho and Pink Salmon.

The 1941-built facility was designed to move 20,000 fish annually. During Pink Salmon migration, in odd years, it manages to move upwards of 20,000 fish per day. The new facility is designed to transport 60,000 fish a day, upwards of 1.2 million fish per year, during pink run years.

Corps officials worked with land owners in the project footprint, including the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and Cascade Water Alliance, to acquire needed easements and real estate in time for the March 2018 award date. Corps officials will also continue working with NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the tribes, Washington State and stakeholders as they complete construction.

As with any construction project, schedule risks are inherent and include material and labor availability, weather and unanticipated site conditions.

“We’re committed, as we know every one of our partners and stakeholders are, to improving fish passage conditions at Mud Mountain Dam as soon as possible,” said Hauenstein. “The completed fish passage facility will help restore ESA-listed Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout runs, ensuring all fish populations can continue to reach essential upper White River spawning and rearing grounds.”

Bill Dowell

Release no. 18-009