Tahlequah Daily Press

November 28, 2012

Conservation experts review stabilization project

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Experts from Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission on Tuesday gave an overview of the Illinois River Stream Bank Stabilization Project to members of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission.

The project, which officially began in January, was completed in September, and covered 12 sites in Cherokee and Adair counties, including Felts Park, Kaufman Park, the Tahlequah History Trail, Todd Public Access and the Illinois River Ranch. All locations had suffered extreme stream bank erosion and were targeted for restoration.

The endeavor came with a $2 million price tag, and was funded by federal stimulus funds.

Jason Vogel, of Oklahoma State University, explained the purpose of the project, which included reducing the sediment load, enhancing the natural habitat, and educating the public about alternative forms of bank restoration.

The project involved the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, OSU, North State Environmental, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

Project Manager Jeri Fleming, also of OSU, said initial planning began in summer 2011.

“We held conferences, and developed the plans for the project,” said Fleming. “We talked a lot about vegetation, which is so important when you’re trying to re-establish riparian areas. It’s also very important to know what to plant. In this project, we’ve used a lot of vegetation native to the area, including river cane.”

Actual construction began in June 2012.

“Since we were working in four very public parks, it was important to let people know why we were there and what we were doing,” said Fleming. “Kaufman Park, which is behind the Tahlequah Senior Citizens Center, is now open all the way through to Felts Park. The stream in Kaufman Park had eroded around a sewer line and manhole cover, and that wasn’t good aesthetically and otherwise. We went about trying to fix that problem, as well as let people know why we were there.”

Throughout the construction process, a number of workshops were held to educate the public, as well as professionals in the field, about the project.

“Our workshops focused on people who would be interested in duplicating these kinds of designs,” said Fleming. “We held a design workshop with contractors and engineers where we spent half the day in a classroom, and the other half at the Illinois River Ranch site. We asked the participants how they would fix the erosion problems, then showed them our design. The whole purpose is that we hope to see more of this kind of restoration throughout Oklahoma and across the country.”

According to data collected by Fleming, during the project 1,250 people were educated or trained, and participants included eight federal agencies, four cities, four American Indian tribes and two universities. Over 30,000 people were introduced to the concept through media coverage of the project.

“The nine-month timeline was a huge red flag for some of the construction companies interested in the project,” said Vogel. “That and the $1.2 million funding amount. Some viewed it as too short a time frame and too much risk. We had a lot of hoops to jump through and challenges, but we are very happy with how everything worked out.”