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Wimer residents seek year-round bridge

A Friday downpour that stranded a Pacific Power crew and swept a car into Evans Creek came as no surprise to Murphy Gulch residents.

The one-lane bridge over Evans Creek, their only access to the outside world, floods three or four times every year.

"All you need is two good storms," said resident Bud Parriott. "It can last a day, it can last 11 days."

The concrete bridge was built by the Bureau of Land Management in 1961 to provide seasonal access to logging areas. About 3 feet above the streambed and without guardrails, the bridge is designed so that water and debris can flow over it during a flood.

At the time the easements on private land were created in the late 1950s, only two people lived on Murphy Gulch Road. That number has since grown to 40, counting everyone's children.

For decades, neighbors have petitioned the BLM on local, state and federal levels to build a new bridge that provides year-round access.

But BLM officials said the agency can't spend federal dollars on roads and bridges for residential use and has no plans to build a more substantial bridge.

"They don't have any money to do anything," said Phil Anderson, who lives on property bought by his father in 1945 where the BLM bridge sits. "We were saying either lead, follow or get out of the way. They wouldn't do anything."

Parriott, who has lived on Murphy Gulch Road for a year, said he hopes Friday's incident will prompt the BLM to reconsider the bridge height.

Pacific Power crews had responded to some power outages on Murphy Gulch Road and had driven across the bridge, said Monte Mendenhall, the company's regional community manager.

"The creek was still rising," he said.

By the time the crews came back down the road the bridge was submerged. They left their trucks on Murphy Gulch Road and took a nearby footbridge back across the creek. The crews retrieved their trucks the following day, when the water had receded.

Parriott said a car also washed off the bridge Friday, adding that no one was injured and the car was pulled out the next day. It's one of several cars that have been washed off the bridge over the years.

In 1995, a mother and daughter broke out a back window and swam to safety after rain-swollen Evans Creek swept their truck off the bridge.

After the incident, the BLM posted signs reading "Caution: Do not cross when bridge is under water." One of the signs has since washed away.

Murphy Gulch is a government road, not a public road, said Jim Whittington, public affairs specialist for the BLM office in Medford. He said casual use by the public is permitted, but the agency never intended the bridge to be used during periods of high water.

Don Kidwell, a Murphy Gulch Road resident for 37 years, said in the wintertime residents rely on the wobbly footbridge that spans the creek a couple hundred feet downstream.

"That's what we do is leave a car over here and go out on the foot bridge," said Kidwell. He said some Murphy Gulch residents had offered to contribute thousands of dollars for a new bridge, and some, such as Anderson's son, who builds roads professionally, offered to do the work.

Anderson said altering the creek bed — though it would require approval from the Department of Fish and Wildlife and other permits — would make a difference.

"We could make this bridge work a lot better with some minor modifications," he said.

Anderson said it's been frustrating trying to resolve the problem.

"It's really something when an agency like that stifles community initiative," said Anderson.

For the residents to rebuild the BLM bridge where it stands, they would have to meet state and federal standards for bridge design, said Whittington, adding that the project could run several hundred thousand dollars.

Whittington said BLM staff suggested the neighbors could try to create an easement for themselves and build their own bridge in a different location and tie into the BLM road.

"It's one thing they could consider," he said.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.

Top right: When the Murphy Gulch bridge floods, residents use this footbridge to reach East Evans Creek Road and the outside world. Above: From left, Phil Anderson, Don Kidwell and Bud Parriott, residents of Murphy Gulch Road in Wimer, would like the Bureau of Land Management to replace the concrete bridge over Evans Creek that floods several times each winter. - Bob Pennell