County approves environmental impact report for Devils Gate Dam sediment removal
|March 2, 2011 - It was a dramatic scene at the County Supervisors but after a lot of jockeying the Supervisors approved an EIR for the Hahamongna sediment removal program. -|
|LOS ANGELES - A motion by Supervisor Michael Antonovich to require an environmental impact report on an emergency project to clear 1.6 million cubic yards of debris from Devil's Gate Dam won approval Tuesday from the Board of Supervisors.|
The county Department of Public Works project in the Hahamongna Watershed Park above Pasadena - which was due to start in September - got an emergency exemption from California Environmental Quality Act requirements after record amounts of Station Fire debris washed in during the winter storms of 2009-2010.
Supervisors Gloria Molina and Don Knabe abstained from voting on Antonovich's motion. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asked the DPW to come back to the board in 30 days with a short-term solution to the sediment accumulation along the face of the dam.
The vote was 3-0, with the two supervisors abstaining.
Antonovich had asked for a report within 90 days.
The scale of the project, and the physical impact of years of truck traffic hauling debris through neighborhoods in Pasadena and other cities make an EIR necessary, Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said.
"We want to ensure the EIR serves to engage and inform the community and allows them to participate," Bell said. "We feel strongly that, as a community and as does the city of Pasadena, that this project requires thorough environmental analysis and in-depth community involvement."
Pasadena Councilman Steve Madison represented the City Council at the board meeting, following a council decision at Monday's meeting to write to the board supporting an EIR.
Madison said it's important to maintain a balance between safety and local environmental concerns.
"This is a project important to the maintenance of the whole storm basin system," Madison said.
The council, he said, will likely ask City Manager Michael Beck to arrange a presentation on the project, with both county and Pasadena public works departments weighing in.
"It is hard to imagine a project of this scope would not require an EIR," Madison said.
The DPW, he said, is "conflating" the need for immediate emergency sediment-removal with the entire long-term process.
The project would dredge more than 1.6 million cubic yards of sediment from the dam and reservoir in the Hahamongna Watershed Park above Pasadena and truck it to the Foothill (210) Freeway for transport to spreading areas.
An EIR could take at least a year to complete, Bell said.
DPW spokesman Bob Spencer said safety continues to be an issue at Devil's Gate, which was built in the Arroyo Seco in 1920 as the county's first flood control dam.
"Nothing has changed," Spencer said Tuesday. "The risk that is currently there remains and the risk is not going to diminish as a result of the board motion today."
The 30-day short-term solution the department has been asked to provide will address only the safety of the dam itself, he said, including valves and sluice gates.
The amount of sediment in the dam, which was last cleaned out in 1993, doubled after the 2009 Station Fire, when an estimated 936,000 cubic yards of debris was deposited, Spencer said.
"The longer we wait, the longer the risk stays with us, on the downstream side of that facility," he said. "The storm we just had was relatively light from a technical perspective, but the water came within three feet of the spillway. That's too close for comfort, and that's why the sediment needs to be removed."
Camron Stone of Arcadia was one of about 15 local environmental activists who attended the meeting. He linked requests for an EIR to the level of opposition to the DPW's January flood-control project for Santa Anita Dam.
Although there was an EIR for that project, many local environmentalists said not enough public notice was given before 11 acres of native oak woodland were razed for a sediment dump. A new watchdog organization for DPW projects, Urbanwild Network, grew out of the opposition.
"It's not a slam-dunk," Stone said of a possible Devil's Gate EIR. "I fully expect the DPW to come back again and say we're all going to die. ... But I have to give it to Antonovich for sticking to his guns and listening to the people. So maybe something really positive will come out of it."
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