Pierce County earns engineering award for Puyallup River flood prevention project

Pierce County has received a Project of the Year Award from the Washington State chapter of the American Public Works Association (APWA) for a project that protects Orville Road from severe erosion created by the Puyallup River.

Pierce County Public Works and Utilities designed and built 700 feet of riverbank protection and six engineered log jams on the Puyallup River next to Orville Road between Electron Road and 249th Street East. The project, which was completed last fall, allows the river to meander in the channel but protects the road from the river during high water events. The project was also designed to provide habitat for salmon.

The team was recognized last month for winning in the category for “Road Projects Under $5 Million.”

“This project was a significant departure from how Pierce County has protected roads from rivers in the past,” said Pierce County Public Works and Utilities director Brian Ziegler. “This innovative design shows how Pierce County is taking different approaches to maintain public safety while allowing the river to flow as naturally as possible.”

Orville Road in east Pierce County connects rural communities to urban areas. The road has been threatened during floods in the last several years. The judges commented the project “was innovative and completed ahead of schedule.” The judges also appreciated the team considering other alternatives during the planning process.

“We looked at many traditional design approaches and none of them were feasible either due to cost, complexity or impact to the community,” said Pierce County Public Works and Utilities surface water capital improvements manager Hans Hunger. “A new, creative approach was necessary to make this project possible.”

The engineered log jams were built with large logs and eight-ton concrete structures that resemble children’s jacks. The jacks, called dolos, keep the logs in place which will then catch additional trees and vegetation flowing down the river. Six of the engineered log jams will slow the river during high flow events and direct the water away from Orville Road. A string of the log jams act as a levee protecting the river’s bank and the road. The log jams also serve as salmon habitat providing shade and pools for the fish. The dolos attracted the attention of the judges who noted the concrete jacks helped the team win the award.

“Taking this approach not only protects a vital road in this community, but allows the river to operate naturally and allow salmon the habitat they need to survive and thrive,” said Pierce County Public Works and Utilities Surface Water Manager Harold Smelt. “This award demonstrates the innovations Pierce County is putting into practice have merit and others are looking to our community for new ideas and solutions to long-standing challenges along the rivers.”

Pierce County worked with the consulting firm Natural Systems Design and contractor Active Construction Inc. on the project. The $1.2 million project was funded from real estate excise taxes collected from the sale of properties in unincorporated Pierce County.