Small Fish Stops Work On Ottawa County Bridge Project - News9.com - Oklahoma City, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports |

Small Fish Stops Work On Ottawa County Bridge Project

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Stepp Ford bridge [Oklahoma Department of Transportation] Stepp Ford bridge [Oklahoma Department of Transportation]
Neosho Madtom Catfish. [US Fish and Wildlife Service] Neosho Madtom Catfish. [US Fish and Wildlife Service]
“It’s kind of frustrating,” said Ottawa County Commissioner, John Clarke. “It’s kind of frustrating,” said Ottawa County Commissioner, John Clarke.
OTTAWA COUNTY, Oklahoma -

An almost $6 million bridge project is on hold but not because of budget constraints, it’s because of a fish. A three-inch-long river resident called the Neosho Madtom catfish is throwing up roadblocks for the project.

The catfish is endangered, so until crews can find out how to complete the bridge without harming the Madtom, plans are at a standstill.

“It’s kind of frustrating,” said Ottawa County Commissioner, John Clarke.

The Neosho Madtom catfish is pretty much extinct except along an area of the Neosho River, the same spot where a new bridge is supposed to go up.

Clarke said he was well aware of the fish and that construction had already been delayed to let the Madtom complete their spawning cycle, which ends Thursday.

“So actually Friday we were ready to jump in the river and go to work,” Clarke said.

John Blickensderfer, vice president of engineering for Guy Engineering says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was concerned about how a planned cofferdam would affect the habitat of the endangered Neosho Madtom Catfish. The wall of dirt was intended to create a dry area for work on the bridge.

Clarke said, “I'm concerned about fish and wildlife, and I'm an avid hunter and fisherman, and I don't want to be the guy who puts a little catfish into extinction.”

“They are the lower part of the food chain so everything from them on feeds on these guys,” said Peoria Tribe Researcher, Justin Downs.

The Peoria Tribe uses federal grant money to study the species and find ways to help it thrive, but the fish are still very rare and until a three-month study is complete, the construction zone will sit empty.

“This is prime construction time for that site because the water level is at its lowest now,” Clarke said.

He said the bridge is a safety issue and has already been closed for two years.

“Our medical services and that kind of thing need to go 22 miles out of the way just to get to the other side,” said Clarke. “I'm just worried my constituents are ready to tar and feather me.”

Clarke is heading to OKC Wednesday to meet with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and engineers to talk about other options.

After all, he said, they were able to upgrade an almost identical bridge down the river a few years ago with no problems.

Blickensderfer says a new consultation with federal officials will have to occur before work can begin again. He said a different construction method will likely be approved, but it would probably be four months before work on the bridge can resume.

Some of the researchers said the fish were affected by the number of dams that were constructed back in the 60s limiting the habitat for the fish.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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