OGDEN -- Union Pacific Railroad is hoping to finish repairs this week to the second of two failing culverts that support its 20-mile causeway that stretches west of Ogden across the Great Salt Lake.
The company last week received its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to fill in and close the causeway's east culvert. They call it closure because the bolstering of the 15- by 22-foot box culvert blocks water from flowing through it.
The culvert was cracking so bad in October Union Pacific no longer felt safe allowing divers to check the cracking out of safety concerns, according to Army Corps, which said UP first identified cracking in the causeway's two culverts.
A year ago UP closed-filled in the other crumbling west culvert under the causeway.
The Army Corps and state Water Quality Bureau are now both in a public comment period for an eventual long-term solution of a new 180-foot bridge for the causeway next year. The comments also apply to the east culvert work, even though it will be finished before the comment period closes.
The causeway is environmentally sensitive since it effectively acts as a dam between the north and south ends of the lake.
The causeway's openings then impact the mixing of the two halves of the lake, affecting the salinity of the waters, which affect the salt-based industries tied to the flake as well as other uses.
Union Pacific applied for the culvert work permits two years ago. In November they delivered new studies that warned the regulatory agencies the east culvert was in danger of "imminent failure," which could bring a train derailment.
The work was began this week even though the public comment and environmental review of impacts is not complete, which was just short of an emergency response, said Jason Gipson, head of the Army Corps' Bountiful office. Gipson said the company has continued to run trains on the causeway.
"It did not meet our definition of emergency," Gipson said. "But we recognize the seriousness of the issues.
"We're in the process of trying to find that permanent solution while maintaining the integrity of the Great Salt Lake for all its uses, both environmental and economic."
The project is being evaluated by the Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and by the State of Utah for Section 401 Water Quality certification.
Written comments or a request for a paper copy of the Army Corps' notice may be submitted to project manager Kathleen Anderson at the Utah Regulatory Office, 533 West 2600 South, Suite 150, Bountiful, Utah 84010, email
Kathleen.Anderson@usace.army.mil, or telephone 801-295-8380, ext 10.
Comments for the state Division of Water Quality can be made via email to Bill Damery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before Thursday's snowstorm, a Union Pacific spokesman said two days of preparation work before the one-day task of filling in the east culvert was expected to finish Thursday.
Aaron Hunt, UP's media and corporate relations director in the company's Roseville, Cal., office, said media requests to be taken out to the work site have been denied for safety reasons.
He said the work is part of $3.6 billion in repairs and upgrades to the UP 23-state network. He didn't have a cost estimate for the culvert closing, but said 2013 amounted to another year of "record levels" of capital improvements, after $3.7 billion spent in 2012 and $32 billion in 2011.
Contact reporter Tim Gurrister at 801-625-4238, email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tgurrister