After upgrades, county shuts down Clear Creek foot bridge in Silverdale ... but bridge still gets used

Tex Lewis, a member of the Clear Creek Task Force, stands on a bridge the county determined was unsafe after volunteers in April made safety improvements, such as adding railings. The bridge still sees regular use by trail walkers. - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Tex Lewis, a member of the Clear Creek Task Force, stands on a bridge the county determined was unsafe after volunteers in April made safety improvements, such as adding railings. The bridge still sees regular use by trail walkers.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Rocky Phillips and Joyce Bowers of East Bremerton walk portions of Clear Creek Trail in Silverdale nearly every day. A small bridge that they typically cross without pause was closed with tape by the county last month to prevent people from using it.

Although, it rarely stops anyone.

“It looks pretty sound to me,” Phillips said last week after crossing the bridge, but speculated the closure didn’t actually have anything to do with public safety. “They didn’t get their permit — it’s all about permits.”

The Clear Creek Task Force, with help from youth volunteers, added railings and a ramp to an existing bridge at the north end of Clear Creek Trail near Silverdale Way at the beginning of April. On May 10, the county Department of Community Development taped off the bridge, restricting its access, with a notice posted that the bridge is structurally unsafe and built without permits or approval from the county and the state.

Tex Lewis, a task force member, said the volunteer group was trying to make the 25-foot long and 6-foot wide bridge safer by adding the side railings and that the wooden ramp that was created provides access for those in wheelchairs.

“We certainly don’t consider it unsafe,” said Lewis, adding that he could not argue that they built without permits and didn’t realize any were needed for fixing an old bridge.

Jeff Rowe, deputy director and chief building official with the Department of Community Development, said the bridge is not an eminent hazard but that the same regulations need to be applied as with all projects.

“It’s one thing if you had it at your house and your family walks across it,” Rowe said. “It’s a different matter when we invite the public.”

The bridge is part of county land known as the Markwick property — the previous owner was the Markwick family that used the space for farming. A joint use agreement between the Great Peninsula Conservancy and the county was signed by county commissioners in June 2009. The conservancy is a land preservation organization that includes the Clear Creek Task Force and the agreement allows the task force to work with the county to protect the habitat of Clear Creek and maintain and improve trails.

“They are allowing us to use the property and we’re doing work on it,” Lewis said, adding that he plans to work with the county to figure out what needs to be done to make the bridge safe. A meeting between the two parties is scheduled for next week.

Not only did the group fail to meet requirements with the county, but also with the state. The bridge was renovated without a hydraulic project approval — a normal regulation for all bridges — through the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Gina Piazza, habitat biologist for Pierce and Kitsap Counties with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said she had not inspected the area but that it needs to be checked to make sure it meets regulations including flood flow and hazardous materials safety.

“We’re not trying to stop or prevent anything,” said Piazza. “We’re treating them just like we treat everyone else.”

As the task force works to sort out the bridge issue with the county and state, a long-term project is in the works for the trail and nearby area where the bridge is located.

Chris May, director of the county’s surface and stormwater management program, said the project is in the early conceptual design stage and that construction would likely begin in 2013.

The bridge — the one that the county currently has blocked off — will eventually be replaced by a new bridge that will not interrupt flood plains, May said. The stormwater ponds on the property will also be enhanced.

In addition to an extended trail, Lewis hopes that the Markwick property — he estimates it to be about 12 acres — will include tables for a picnic area and a P-patch. In the meantime, he looks forward to National Trails Day, Saturday, where the task force will be out grooming the trail and clearing blackberry bushes.

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