Why did the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department fail to support stream crossings bond issue?

culvertIt’s a mystery to me. An important bond issue to raise more money for improving stream crossings failed to draw the support of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Yet in an April 11 edition of the agency’s newsletter, there’s a great article on the importance of improving our stream crossings.

When I asked Tom Abello, lobbyist for The Nature Conservancy, what his greatest disappointment was this legislative session, here’s what he told me:

“The biggest disappointment is not getting the stream crossing bond passed, LD 1069. It was a $10 million bond for towns and cities to make critical infrastructure upgrades in culverts and other stream crossing to address public safety and fish passage issues. It would have continued the work of the 2014 water bond which provided $5.4 mil for that. It would benefit towns and cities throughout the state – rural, small, urban, and large. It was the last bond pulled out of the package. Supporters of this bond include the state Chamber, TNC, SAM, Associated General Contractors of Maine, Maine Audubon, Maine Municipal Association and many others. We also had some 70 cosponsors.”

Tom later told me that the Department of Environmental Protection was “a very big supporter of the bond,” but that DIF&W was not involved and “has never really engaged on the issue.”

That’s really troubling, considering the importance of this for our fisheries and other wildlife resources. And you don’t have to take my word for this. Here’s Joe Wiley’s column on stream crossings, from DIFY&W’s April 11 newsletter.


Installing Better Stream Crossing Structures Benefits Fisheries and Wildlife

A half culvert like this one, place on cement footings, allows for a natural stream bottom that allows for the passage of fish and other species.

By Joe Wiley, IFW Wildlife Biologist

Landowners, both large and small often need to create access or upgrade existing access to their lands. In order to limit impacts to habitat, landowners should try to avoid crossing streams if it is possible.  If a crossing over a stream is unavoidable, it makes sense to limit crossings to only areas where they are essential.

Stream crossings will use a variety of different structures such as metal or plastic culverts, box culverts or bridges.  However, not all of these are created equally.  Of course, these structures need to be sized appropriately to safely meet the anticipated flows expected in the river or stream, and minimize both “velocity”, “low flow” and other common barriers to fish passage.  These are purposely designed oversized, so that they can handle an unusually large flood event such as 25 or 50 year storm. Of course, they also need to be cost efficient for the property owner.

This pre-cast concrete structure is relatively easy to install and is cost-efficient with an expected lifespan of 80 years.

The best crossing structures retain the natural stream bed, allowing the stream to function normally. This not only provides fish passage but allows for all the other biological components of the stream ecosystem such as amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and mammal passage within the watershed.  Another important benefit of crossing structures that maintain the natural stream width is a significant reduction in beaver problems.

Culverts are the least desirable for crossings of perennial streams because of their relatively short life span and the constrictions culverts impose to the natural stream width. Plastic culverts have the same drawbacks and their smooth inner surface increases water velocity significantly. Alternatively, modular concrete arches, box bridges and bridge deck panels along with concrete footings and abutment blocks are manufactured in several sizes suitable for most any situation. Based on a service life of +/- 80 years concrete stream crossing structures are the most cost effective, are fish and wildlife friendly and are easy to install. A North Anson Maine company is currently manufacturing pre-cast concrete crossing structures that maintain the natural stream bed of the stream.


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.