August 31, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Theres one more hurdle to jump before work can begin to halt erosion of the Grande Ronde River near the Spruce Street Bridge.

The hurdle is pretty high: Union County must come up with $816,000 as its share of the restoration project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, project leader, has most recently estimated the cost at $3.26 million, with about $2.5 million being paid by the corps.

The countys planning department will ask the Bonneville Power Administration for its share of the funds needed. If the money cannot be raised outside the county general fund, the erosion project will not happen, said County Planner Hanley Jenkins.

The analysis of the rivers condition from the Spruce Street Bridge to the Island City Bridge was completed in 1992. Five years later, the total cost of erosion control was projected at a little more than $1 million, but the cost has more than doubled since then, Jenkins said.

A couple of years ago the corps announced that work on the bridge would begin in September 2001. A new schedule, however, calls for work to begin next summer.

Jenkins and his staff will join 56 other agencies and organizations making presentations on restoration projects to the BPAs Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority Sept. 12 and 13 at the National Guard Armory-Blue Mountain Conference Center in La Grande. The requests cover such areas within the Columbia Basin as the Lower Snake River, Hells Canyon, the Imnaha basin and the Grande Ronde River and its tributaries.

The Spruce Street project is co-sponsored by the county Soil and Water Conservation District, and the districts chairwoman, Melanie Tromp Van Holst will make the presentation.

The funding will cover only the first phase of the erosion control project, a one-mile reach downstream from the Spruce Street Bridge.

A series of concrete weirs underwater structures would be built to control the rivers flow and stop bank erosion. The work is also designed to affect erosion under the bridge, which, if not stopped, could eventually undermine the structure.

Jenkins has said that the weirs will not affect fish passage, and irrigation diversion will remain in place.

According to analysis by the corps, the erosion has been caused by a series of events, including changes in the river channel to reduce flooding and gravel mining. Private property along the river has also been eroded, but private landowners will not be asked to contribute funds to the project, Jenkins said.