Nesting eagles stymie DOT plans

Two bald eagles that have decided Ross Point is the perfect place to raise a family have effectively put the hillside stabilization project planned for that area on hold for at least a year.

Starting in June, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) planned to complete the 11-year process of securing Ross Point’s landslide-prone hillsides. The areas left are low-priority — mostly the spaces between previously buttressed sections. However, the department wanted to wrap up the project, which has been underway since 1992.

“That area in there is one ongoing landslide,” said DOT geotech Steve Lowell. “We’ve taken care of the most active ones. Now, we’re just going down the list.”

There has been an eagle’s nest on Ross Point for years, and bald eagles of varying ages are often seen hunting in the area. However, the nest had stayed empty for the last five years and the DOT thought the eagles were done with it. After six years, explained DOT spokeswoman Amity Trowbridge, the nest can be declared abandoned.

“We were almost there,” she said.

The nest is located literally in the middle of the proposed construction area.

Because there is a mandatory 1/4-mile-radius no-work zone surrounding any pair of nesting eagles, the eagles’ choice of living quarters has made it virtually impossible for the DOT to follow through with any of its plans.

Technically, the department crews could have started work after Aug. 15 — the end of the bald eagle nesting season — and pushed to get the nine-week project done before the rains started. That turned out to be impossible, as well — the proposed detour route up Port Orchard Boulevard will be torn up starting in late August so Port Orchard’s public works department can install a new sewer main.

The plan this summer was to buttress the last three sections of hillside in the same manner as the other sections. Although the covering of chunky rock may not look like the most stable surface to passing motorists, DOT officials said the method has proved very effective.

The most notorious sliders on Ross Point were systematically buttressed between 1992 and 2000 in a multi-phase process. Lowell said all slide areas which have buttressing — even the ones buttressed nearly 10 years ago — have stayed put since then.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job with the areas that were falling down on the highway,” Lowell said.

With the arrival of the eagles, the project will be pushed back to next summer. The DOT doesn’t anticipate this to be a problem because there is no pressing need to get the last sections finished right away. Lowell said the sections which are part of this upcoming project have remained relatively inactive and have not posed a serious landslide threat.

The project will have to be finished eventually. The $7.5 million originally budgeted for Ross Point slide repairs in 1992 — paid for by the state and federal government — was meant to be a one-time bulk sum. The idea was to deal with all of the slide area’s problems in one go, instead of spending a little every year on Band-Aid fixes.

This, the last phase of the project, is estimated to cost approximately $4.5 million — a price nearly equal to the cost of all previous Ross Point slide projects combined.

“It’ll be a lot more work than we’ve done on Ross Point before,” Trowbridge explained.

Hopefully, the eagles will pick a different spot to raise chicks next year. Although the DOT would be free to start their work late — barring any other city projects — the idea was to get in a full summer of construction. Besides, Trowbridge pointed out, any work near nesting eagles requires special permits that make the overall permitting process much more difficult.

Luckily, Trowbridge continued, eagles tend to be nomadic and don’t necessarily nest in the same place every year.

“We’ll try for next year,” she said. “We’ll get it done.”

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