Another "our environment vs. our environmentalists" story.
Residents feel their problems have been overlooked for years as various state and federal natural resource protection agencies argue over what to do about the larger crisis in Pescadero marsh, an adjacent estuary where unhealthy environmental conditions strangle steelhead trout each year when the sandbar breaks. The environmental issue is tied up in a lawsuit brought by several locals. But plenty of Pescadero stalwarts, including members of the advisory committee, believe they can solve the problem simply by dredging a stretch of creek with tractors and excavators. They remember when the Butano Creek channel was 11 feet deep and full of fish. Now it's a foot deep in places, and fish passage is rare.
"The problems have been here for 25 years. The solutions have been known for 20 years. There have been innumerable studies, and no one will step up," said Steve Skinner, a committee member and owner of a local inn. He loses all his customers when the road floods. Other businesses have similar complaints. But locals note their concerns go way beyond inconvenience. The flooding is so extreme it's dangerous. Sheriff's deputy's cars have stalled in the water. The well-equipped CalFire station, just a few hundred feet from town, happens to be on the wrong side of the massive puddle. If elderly patients need care or there's a medical emergency, they may be out of luck.
In 1998, El Niño storms flooded not just the creek but the entire town, saturating septic systems and covering houses and other property in sewage. Part of the problem is that much of Pescadero's town center lies in a floodplain, so water problems aren't unusual. Locals rejected a county offer to raise the roadway several years ago because it would permanently flood adjacent farming fields. Building a
bridge over the roadway is perceived as too expensive -- and people are quick to add that it wouldn't actually fix the problem. Residents pine for the days when farmers regularly dredged the creek. That was before State Parks started managing the creek as a natural resource and before many threatened and endangered wildlife -- including the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake -- took on the status of protected species.
San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley toured the marsh with Assemblyman Jerry Hill last week. He isn't convinced that the solution is as simple as some locals believe. "Their idea for fixing it is not really workable as a long-term solution," he said. "It will clear up one year but get silted up all over again."
Horsley said the flooding issue can't be resolved until state and federal agencies agree on an overall plan for Pescadero marsh. The San Mateo County Resource Conservation District is working on a plan, he said.
Meanwhile, a Pescadero citizens' group called the Coastal Alliance for Species Enhancement sued State Parks, the Department of Fish and Game and other state agencies in November for failing to enforce the Endangered Species Act in Pescadero marsh. That case will have a hearing in August. The group is likely to file a similar suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in September, according to attorney Ronda Lucas.
On Tuesday, Pescadero officials backed a proposal to launch an online information hub called "Pescadero flood watch" with flood updates, an archive and a discussion board devoted to solutions. They also agreed to launch a major PR campaign directed at local legislators, top public agency officials and Peninsula environmentalists who may be able to help them with their cause. "We are not going to wait for someone to tell us to do something. We are going to take this to the county," vowed committee Chairman Greg Bonaparte. Horsley said he has requested $1 million in federal funds to back a solution in Pescadero marsh once a plan emerges. To prepare for this coming winter, he said he would ask the county to clean out the silted-up culverts on either side of Pescadero Creek Road. He also mentioned giving the advisory committee the financial flexibility to buy a pump to get water off the road."
Posted by Kathy Meeh