By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
Del Norte County officials and Save-the-Redwoods League attended the same meeting last May but came away with different impressions regarding realigning Highway 101.
"I was frankly surprised by the comments from county officials and their feeling we haven't addressed this issue," said Kate Anderton, president of the league. "When we transferred the property to the state we specifically addressed the relocation of the highway, provided it is the best solution."
The subject of rerouting the highway gained prominence after the Mill Creek land sale, when 25,000 acres of Stimson Lumber Company land was purchased by the league. The property was turned over to the state last spring and is to be added to the state park system.
Because of ground instability and erosion problems facing Caltrans on portions of Highway 101 winding along the bluff south of Crescent City, county officials wanted a commitment from the state that realigning the highway through the Mill Creek area would be added to the property's management plan.
But county officials claim the wording is not sufficient, that there is no guarantee a realignment would be granted in the future and it is not what was agreed to at the Department of Public Works meeting.
"Jerry Cochran (county assessor) and I flew down to Sacramento to the meeting with the Public Works Department specifically for that, to get that wording included," said Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn.
County supervisors, at a July 9 meeting, complained because the league's management recommendations didn't include a dedicated easement. Anderton said the realignment is mentioned as a possibility and that was all that was called for.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Blackburn spoke exclusively to the board about the realignment.
"It has been a major issue every winter, the potential of that slide going out by either earthquake or underground water created by some of these massive rain years," Blackburn told the board. "This is a serious issue in our county. We would like to have a corridor available ... it is important now that this issue be etched in stone so that when we run into this issue in a later situation, we don't have to jump through hoops."
According to Blackburn, James Tilton, administrative secretary of the state Public Works Board, agreed.
"The agreement actually specifies there will be property set aside to allow for this highway realignment," Tilton said. "In addition, the agreement allows for other public uses that may come up in the future so long as they are not inconsistent with the goal of setting up the park."
"The comment from Tilton satisfied what we had gone there for. We thought we had this nailed down," Blackburn said yesterday. "Maybe it is open to interpretation but that's not what we understood him to say."
Anderton said although the highway was discussed at the meeting, a dedicated easement was not approved.
"They expressed concern about the highway and I told them the agreement we were entering into with the state clearly permitted that use," said Anderton. "But no one ever talked, in my recollection, about an easement."
Anderton also asserted the interim plan was limited in scope and longevity and said county officials are placing too much emphasis on it.
"One thing to remember is this is the short-term plan, for maybe five to 10 years," she said. "It is not the long-term plan for the property by any means. And it's in the long-term plan where this subject should really be addressed."
In the league's recommendations, a section titled "Highway 101 Alternative" acknowledges there may be a need to move the highway away from the bluff:
"Locally steep slopes and a deep-seated landslide may make it impossible to stabilize the roadway within the existing right-of-way. Should this be the case, a long-term solution may involve moving the highway further inland, possibly through the Mill Creek's western portion."
A portion of the probable alternate route near Wilson Creek would cross over privately-held land owned by Simpson Timber Company of Eureka.
Neal Ewald, general manager of Simpson Resource Company, said there currently are no through-routes on old logging roads that will connect logging roads near Wilson Creek to the Mill Creek tract. Ewald said Stimson Lumber did not want connecting roads.
"They preferred limiting traffic to their main gate, which is understandable," said Ewald. "And we didn't have a reason to connect the roads either, so there is a gap."
Ewald said the area where a connection would need to be made includes rough terrain and some steep grades. Ewald said he did not know what position his company would take in regard to selling a portion of its property, although California has the power of eminent domain to acquire property for the public good.
"It hasn't been proposed to us so I really couldn't say. But I am sure part of it would depend on the scope, whether it was a quarter of an acre or something much larger," said Ewald, adding that Simpson performs a "significant" amount of its harvesting in the Wilson Creek area.
Anderton, who would not commit to researching an easement yesterday, said she is having all county comments regarding the interim plan compiled and forwarded to the league's consultant.
"The league is committed to continue to work with Caltrans and the community to address the highway access needs," she said. "Caltrans has its process that we understand is the way in which the state's highway system is improved."
Caltrans public information officer Ann Jones said yesterday that studies of the current highway alignment are ongoing and no results have been reached. However, she admitted the agency is considering the lifespan of the current roadway.
"Studies are being done on the longevity of the road. What the results will be depend on the outcome of the study," Jones said. "Right now we are using retaining walls and other stabilizing methods on the existing road (and) we are currently studying what measures can be taken to stabilize the roadway on its current alignment."
Anderton said there is no set date when the plan will be finalized.