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  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
    The reconstructed berm at the Graham-McCulloch Ditch in the Eagle Marsh nature preserve is four times wider than it had been before excavation began in September.
November 25, 2015 1:03 AM

Eagle Marsh berm nears completion

Dry fall lets crews make up time lost to summer rains

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

Construction of an Asian carp barrier at Eagle Marsh is pretty much finished, just months after the federal project was literally stuck in the mud.

Torrential rain this summer prevented contractor Fleming Excavating Inc. from beginning work to widen a bank of the Graham-McCulloch Ditch inside the nature preserve. But an arid autumn permitted crews from the Decatur company and a Fort Wayne subcontractor to make up for lost time.

“There were really no major stumbling blocks once they got started,” Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs for the Little River Wetlands Project, said Tuesday. The nonprofit co-owns Eagle Marsh with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Yankowiak said dry weather in recent months allowed Fleming Excavating to use at least 10 vehicles at a time to dig up, move and place soil that became the expanded berm.

“For as bad as the weather was this summer, it was that good this fall to work,” Duane Riethman, area engineer for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, said in an email. 

Riethman said that “everything moved much more quickly” than anticipated.

Fleming Excavating President Greg Fleming said that after the summer rain delay, he was hoping the company and subcontractor Fox Contractors Corp. could build the base of the berm this year and complete the structure next year.

“But because of the unusual dry weather this fall, we just hit it and kept on going,” Fleming said. “We ran some longer hours and we had some overtime. We added equipment and people, and it worked out.”

Yankowiak said most of what remains to be done in the $3.5 million project involves seeding the rebuilt berm with native grasses and wildflowers.

The berm is more than 9,000 feet long and about 80 feet wide, or four times wider than before excavation began in early September. The broader ditch bank is supposed to keep invasive species such as Asian carp from migrating between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.

Covering more than 700 acres on the southwest edge of Fort Wayne, Eagle Marsh is a continental divide that drains into both basins. Although no Asian carp have been found near the preserve, conservation officials have long feared that the huge fish might swim from the Wabash River to the Little River and the Graham-McCulloch Ditch, then ride floodwaters in Eagle Marsh to reach the Junk Ditch, the St. Marys and Maumee rivers and Lake Erie.

Yankowiak said that in addition to halting the possible spread of carp and other invasive species, the wider berm will make it easier for Eagle Marsh turtles, frogs, deer, mink and raccoons to roam around the Graham-McCulloch Ditch.

She said it is too soon to know whether any wildlife was displaced by the berm reconstruction.

“We won’t see the frogs come back and see that they are repopulating the area until the springtime,” she said.

The berm will be closed to visitors until grasses and other plants are established next fall, Yankowiak said.

When it’s ready, she said, “the top of the berm is going to make a really amazing trail” that will offer views into the heart of the preserve.

Excavation at Eagle Marsh created 12 more acres of wetlands there, which Yankowiak said will be a boon for bird-watchers.

She said Fleming Excavating uncovered boulders that might be used in landscaping for a new trailhead at the marsh.

bfrancisco@jg.net