OTTAWA COUNTY, OK.--- The Stepps Ford Bridge in Ottawa County had been shut down for the past couple of years, until reconstruction efforts began back in March. The construction near Commerce is now at a stand still, after an endangered madtom catfish was found in the Neosho River near the bridge.
"Submit a redesign of the bridge project, to shorten up the beams which required putting in two additional sets of piers. And, that's when Fish and Wildlife stepped in," said John Clarke, Ottawa County Commissioner District 1.
Contractors wanted to build a cofferdam to help with the additional piers, but that would have prevented the madtom from living in its natural habitat.
"It's breeding cycle is between the months of May until July 31st. So which meant, there can't be any work take place," said Clarke.
The recent construction delay has created an inconvenience for locals, too. Drivers have to take a detour more than 20 miles out of the way just to cross the Neosho River near Commerce.
"A 22 mile detour to get over there, it's only two ways to get there. Either you got to go south of Miami, and use the county road system to access to the other side, or you have to go up into Kansas and take 166 and around."
Hannah Baker says the bridge's closure means traveling to Welch for her softball games takes 30 minutes, when it could only take 10 if the bridge were complete.
"It's aggravating, which I kind of understand. Safety wise, why they wanted to change it, but I mean, it is still aggravating," said Hannah Barker, Commerce High School senior.
The breeding period ended last week, but the Fish and Wildlife Department still has to do a re-evaluation of the construction. That could take up to three months, so no word yet on how the cost of the project might be affected.
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