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Highway project designed to improve aquatic habitat

Culvert under Highway 67 near Long Lake, December 7, 2017 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

FOND DU LAC COUNTY (WLUK) -- A highway project in Fond du Lac County is combining transportation and the environment to make better habitat for some area fish.

The Department of Transportation was going to replace the culvert, but money from a federal grant speeded up the process.

Chunks of bobbing ice lined the shoreline of Long Lake Thursday morning. Charlie Benson says fishing is good on the 423-acre lake near Dundee.

"Crappies, bluegill, perch, walleye, nothern and bass," said Charlie Benson, Long Lake Fishing Club President.

Benson says it used to be better.

"Walleye and northern used to run up in this creek in the spring. But in the forties, or early fifties, the highway department changed the road. They put a culvert in that was like 18 inches higher than the water coming out of it. The spillway. They could no longer get up it," he said.

Fast forward to 2017.

"It's outside of what we would typically do with a state highway project," said Bryan Learst, DOT Project Manager.

The Department of Transportation planned to replace the pipes in 2020, but a federal grant allowed them to install a box-shaped culvert and more.

DOT worked with the Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and local fishing clubs too.

"Part of this project, slightly realign the box culvert to get more natural flow through there, and then added a couple meanders," said Learst.

The improvements are designed to extend below the surface. Project leaders say natural habitat stretches through the culvert making it easier for fish to go with the flow.

"Give a pool zone, for fish to be able to rest. In talking with our DNR counterparts, it's important for minnows to be able to have a spot to get in when they're coming back downstream," said Learst.

Part of Highway 67 was shut down for two and a half months during construction.

"It looks pretty nice. They should be able to get up it pretty good. I'm looking forward to spring, to see if they are coming up here," said Benson.

The $700,000 grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will cover most of the project cost. The DOT will pick up the rest.

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