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$1 million Washoe bridge dedicated

by Linda Hiller, Staff Writer

A bridge can be many things to many people. To some, it may be the physical representation of drafted lines on blueprint paper, to others it’s just an easier way to get across a river, and to still others, it’s a symbolic pathway.

Friday, the $1.07 million Washoe Tribal Bridge, located four miles south of Gardnerville on the East Fork of the Carson River, was dedicated by those who made its existence possible, ending nearly four years of discussion, planning and teamwork. The 200-foot, three-span concrete bridge now opens up the east side of Washoe Tribe land with easier access to businesses and homes in Dresslerville.

Tribal Chairman Brian Wallace and other Washoe Tribe members were joined at the dedication by representatives from the U.S. Senate, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, U. S. Forest Service, Douglas County, Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

n Teamwork lauded. At the dedication, Wallace lauded the teamwork that built the bridge, a replacement for a structure heavily damaged during the 1997 New Year’s flood. Choosing not to simply repair the original “low water” bridge, designed to allow water to flood over its top, a team of experts opted to build a new structure, raising it 15 feet with the intent of making it flood-proof.

“We always hesitate to say that, but it would be hard to imagine this bridge failing,” said Dennis Black, the bridge’s FHA project engineer from Lakewood, Colo. “God does some funny things sometimes.”

Following a prayer in the traditional Washoe language by Tribal elder Dina Pete, Wallace spoke about the teamwork, which he said symbolizes what he hopes the future can bring.

“We couldn’t have done it without this group, without each one of you,” he said. “We’re grateful for our friends and we look forward to working together for the sake of all of us and our children.”

Sen. Richard Bryan, scheduled to be at the ceremony as one of his last official duties before leaving office Friday, was caught in the Midwest ice storms and unable to attend, said Tom Baker, Bryan’s rural area director.

“He called from Oklahoma to say he wouldn’t be able to be here, but he was always very concerned that we get this bridge built,” Baker said. “When Dan Kaffer took the senator on his last rural tour, Sen. Bryan was concerned at that time about replacing the bridge with another low water structure. He thought we should instead build a bridge that would withstand future floods. This is more than a bridge and the two pieces of land it connects – it’s a symbol of coming together and working together for the county, the state and the nation.”

Douglas County Commissioner Bernie Curtis, a member of the Carson Water Subconservancy District board said the “excellent partnership between government entities,” since working on the aftermath of the 1997 flood, was a great beginning and something to be continued.

“We’re all partners in the stewardship of the river,” he said.

County Commissioner Kelly Kite, also on the same board as well as the NRCS board, said the last four years had created a symbolic bridge between the Tribe and the county.

“This is really important,” he said. “It’s more than just a bridge.”

n Bald eagle sighted. Dan Kaffer, Western Nevada Resource Conservation and Development Coordinator, said he’d taken his family fishing at the site Thursday and had seen some impressive birds on the river.

“First, we saw a great blue heron and it took off, and then we saw a bald eagle and it caught a big German brown trout and flew into a tree to eat it,” he said. “It was awesome. That’s what this is all about – protecting our natural resources. We have a beautiful river and we need to protect it with projects like this one.”

Also on hand at the dedication was Bob Vaught, USFS supervisor, who said he hopes this project paves the way for good relations between the Tribe and the Forest Service.

“We’re proud to be just a small part of this effort,” he said.

Bob Hunter, superintendent of the Western Nevada Agency of the BIA, said he appreciated the way the project brought the county and the federal governments together.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” he said.

Wanda Batchelor, Tribe vice-chairperson, said many Tribe members worked on the project, including her husband who is an ironworker.

Granite Construction was awarded the $1.07 million contract in February and the bridge was completed Tuesday. Black said the last few details would be wrapped up in the next couple of weeks.

n Speeders not welcome. Wallace said that amidst all the congratulations, one concern has now moved into the fast lane for the Tribe.

“We want to make sure that the traffic through our community doesn’t increase, especially those coming through (Dresslerville) too fast,” he said. “Our children play here and we will have increased enforcement of speeding on tribal lands. It was much quieter when the bridge was out. We are truly grateful for this bridge and we hope people will be respectful and drive the speed limit when they come through.”