Of the Baker City Herald

Lynn Perkins feels ever so much better for his poor, abused oil pan.

No longer will Perkins, or anyone else who drives the Anthony Lakes Highway, have to endure the clatter and clang of a gravel bombardment banging against their vehicle's undercarriage.

Crews have spread the first of two layers of smooth asphalt on the 12-mile section between Haines and the North Powder River.

The workers, from Tidewater Construction, started laying the second two-inch layer Wednesday, and they're scheduled to finish by the end of next week, said Gary R. Wrightman, project engineer for the Federal Highway Administration.

andquot;It's kind of a welcome relief,andquot; said Perkins, who lives at about the halfway point of the project.

andquot;They're doing a nice job.andquot;

Tidewater Construction employees will work on a different job this weekend, but will return to the Anthony Lakes Highway Monday, Wrightman said.

Veraz Construction of Portland, the lead contractor on the $4.5-million job, hired Tidewater as its paving subcontractor, said Jeff Benge, Veraz Construction owner.

The highway will be open, with no pilot cars, delays or detours, today through Sunday, Wrightman said.

Detours will be in place at times next week, though, and drivers could be halted for up to 15 minutes while workers finish putting down the second layer of asphalt.

Fifteen minutes is but a fraction of the wait drivers have endured, however.

The paving project, first proposed several years ago, has been delayed several times by an eclectic mix of issues, including an endangered plant, a similarly threatened fish, and a problem with the size of pebbles.

That latter dilemma prevented paving from starting earlier this summer.

Wrightman said the contractor that Tidewater hired to crush rock, a main ingredient in asphalt, planned to use a quarry near Pilcher Creek Reservoir, just beyond the Union County line north of the highway.

But the company couldn't create an asphalt mixture that met federal standards, Wrightman said.

He said the Federal Highway Administration won't allow contractors to spread inferior asphalt.

andquot;That's what leads to the ruts you see on freeways,andquot; Wrightman said.

So the company shifted its rock-crushing operation to the Harney Rock and Paving Co. pit between Haines and North Powder.

That rock, basalt to be geologically specific, is just right, Wrightman said.

He said rock problems plague paving projects occasionally.

andquot;You run into it every once in a while, but I wouldn't say it's a common problem,andquot; he said.

Benge said he doesn't know what type of rock is in the Hanley pit, or why it was not right for the paving project.

To prepare the highway for its smooth new surface, workers ground away the old, dilapidated asphalt last fall.

Then they spread a layer of small gravel and sprayed it with a liquid designed to bind the pebbles together.

Called andquot;chip-sealing,andquot; the process creates a surface that's rougher than pavement but smoother than plain gravel.

But the chips didn't stay sealed for long.

Not much snow fell last winter, and the lack of an icy coat left the road vulnerable to erosion by passing tires.

By late winter the road surface more resembled a graveled logging road than a highway.

And then the series of asphalt-mixing mishaps delayed the paving for several months.

By summer's end, local residents such as Perkins, as well as the hordes of hikers, campers and anglers who drive the highway to Anthony Lakes, were quite exasperated.

andquot;It was terrible,andquot; Perkins said.

Now, though, the journey is smooth and serene.

andquot;It makes you really appreciate pavement,andquot; Perkins said.