County Supervisors discuss Tonto Creek Bridge, health ordinance

Courtesy photo In this Jan. 5, 2023 photo of the Tonto Creek Bridge project, a crane works to set bridge pillars.

A January 24 Gila County Board of Supervisors work session included discussion of the Tonto Creek Bridge project and a proposed environmental health ordinance.

Work on the $21 million Tonto Creek Bridge started Sept. 1, 2022, and substantial project completion is anticipated in March 2024. County Engineer Tom Goodman told the Board that the deck pour on this 1,981-foot span is anticipated for October 2023, with the project’s first phase (earthwork and bridge construction) estimated to conclude in December. Phase two of the project, consisting of roadway improvements, is estimated to be complete in February 2024. The finished bridge will have two lanes, shoulders and a pedestrian sidewalk.

Goodman reported that a potential impact on the project could result from the need for an updated biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, due to required additional temporary construction easements. These easements were requested by Ames Construction, who is working on the bridge, in order to unload girders and build gabion baskets. Goodman said the biological opinion update could take up to 135 days, but that County staff had drafted a letter to the Secretary of the Interior requesting an expedited update.

Goodman also briefed the board on species of concern in the project area, including the northern Mexican garter snake and Southwestern willow flycatcher. The project employs a full-time biologist who inspects the site daily for the garter snakes, an endangered species; any found must be relocated before the day’s work can commence. The flycatcher, also listed as endangered, affects clearing limits, as clearing can only be done between October and March.

Assistant County Manager Michael O’Driscoll updated the Board on a proposed environmental health ordinance. This ordinance, he said, would increase transparency to Gila County residents and administration regarding the County’s responsibilities under a delegation agreement with the Arizona Department of Health Services. That agreement, updated in 2017, provides inspection and enforcement for food establishments, hotels and motels, pools and spas, public schools, campgrounds and children’s camps, public health nuisance complaints and smoke-free Arizona investigations.

Under the ordinance, Gila County would move from the 2013 FDA Food Code to the 2017 FDA Food Code, as required by the state of Arizona in 2020. O’Driscoll said this move will have no regulatory impact on permitted food facilities. He added that the ordinance would also reduce the types of food permits from more than 20 to four, based on risk.

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