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Gulkana Hatchery still standing after river floods

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Posted: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 12:00 am

FAIRBANKS — The Gulkana Hatchery is still standing.

Floodwaters that threatened to wash away the small Richardson Highway hatchery south of Summit Lake last week have subsided and the manager is optimistic the facility will be functional by the time salmon return to the hatchery spawn in August.

“The egg-take building is still intact,” hatchery manger Gary Martinek reported Monday.  

The hatchery, which sits next to the East Fork Gulkana River along the Richardson Highway between Summit Lake and Paxson, accounts for about 15 percent of the Copper River’s famed sockeye salmon run. The facility produces about 300,000 to 350,000  salmon each year.

The hatchery is owned by the state but is operated by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation.

High water as a result of late-season snow melt pushed the East Fork Gulkana River to unprecedented levels last week. The main channel of the river changed in several places, including near the hatchery, as the river overflowed its banks and cut new channels.

“That river moved millions of yards of material,” he said. “It made a new river essentially.”

At the hatchery site, the river moved 30 to 40 yards to the west of a bridge it had previously flowed under. It chewed a cutbank into the ground under the egg-take building and about one-third of the building was undercut, Martinek said.

But Martinek said he thinks the cut bank can be shored up and the state may be able to redirect the river back to its old channel.

“Even though on one corner it’s got a 4- or 5-foot overhang, there’s no bend in the ridge line,” Martinek said. “I think if you put in some steel and pump in some concrete it will be fine.”

The floodwaters did not appear to damage the intakes from the natural springs the hatchery uses to rear eggs in the winter, nor were the incubator tanks where the eggs are stored damaged.  

The water level in the river on Monday had dropped from what it was last week and the river was cutting a deeper channel, but it wasn’t getting any wider, Martinek said.

Most of the snow on the hills has melted as a result of warm temperatures, he said.

“We’re seeing a lot more brown than white up there now,” Martinek said.

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.


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