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Del Norte People: Last Chance, and the way around it

All of us who choose a community like this to call our home are proud of who we are. Many here go back generations, others for most of their lives and a good many for shorter periods of time.

We all have reasons for staying here and calling this home.

After spending 60-plus years in this community as a dock boy, seasonal river guide, teacher-coach, broadcaster, member of the Del Norte Fish and Game Commission and eight years as a county supervisor, I have learned a lot about who we are as a rural resource community.

My experience on the Board of Supervisors was a real learning curve politically, but it did not change my own perspective of who I was as a person or how I felt about my role in this community. My experiences will be part of my second book, “Kneebockers Shares — Rural Counties: Who Are We?”

In my travels representing Del Norte County, most of my committee assignments were centered around resource-based issues: Klamath River Task Force, Klamath River Ocean Sports Fisheries, Rural Schools, Timber Funding, Two-on-Twos with Elk Valley Rancheria and Smith River Rancheria, State and National Parks, past chairman of the Transportation Committee, Representative to Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Representative to the Tri-Agency.

These experiences were rewarding, but also I had so much to share with many of these state and federal bureaucrats about what I knew about our rivers, ocean and resource extraction issues. Many times I shared possible solutions or alternatives to policy decision-making only to feel like there were closed ears to my contributions. That seems to be all too common to today’s political climate.

There was an article in the Triplicate about a recent presentation written by Tamera Leighton, executive director of Del Norte County’s Transportation Commission. I think highly of Tamera and worked closely with her as chairman of that commission in 2006. 

The presentation centered on the dilemma of the famous Last Chance Grade of Highway 101, 10 miles south of Crescent City. This has been a disaster for decades and resulted in the deaths of local Realtor Kurt Stremburg’s parents in March of 2002 when half the road gave away into the ocean 1,000 feet below.

Over the years many millions of dollars have been spent “fixing this problem.” Guess what? It’s not fixed.

In a story I wrote for the Triplicate on March 15, 2012, about my good friend Ed Hughes, river guide, Ed shared an important bit of information with me about the existing Highway 101 and Last Chance Grade.

Ed worked on the highway in 1930 and 1931 driving Sterling dump trucks. He talked about the highway being surveyed by an old-timer in the late-1920s through the existing Last Chance Grade, but also up the Wilson Creek drainage on the backside of the coastal mountain. This was always intriguing to me as it would stay more out of dense fog, would be a lot safer and would bypass a dangerous slide area.

My friend and colleague, Supervisor David Finigan, looked at this and he joined me in trying to push forward a plan to look at this alternative route. I mentioned this to Caltrans at the Transportation Committee meeting while I was chairman and Dave and I took it to State and National Parks and our own Board.

Our plan was to bring the highway up Wilson Creek on a gradual climb east of the old growth trees in the park and join the existing Highway 101 about a mile south of the Mill Creek Campground on the incline of the road before the high point.

Through our work, we found out that Green Diamond Resources owned much of that land and it had been logged. This seemed to us to be a viable option.

Guess what? Nothing happened and a couple responses were, “It would be tough environmentally and it would cost too much.”

The figure that came out of Tamera’s article was $1 billion. The distance of that route would not exceed 10 miles. Are you kidding me, $100 million per mile?

I would like to see our Board or someone in this community take on this project and really investigate the possibilities.

Neil Ewald and Green Diamond, as good community neighbors, might be open to road acquisition on their property to help make this happen. I know that David Finigan still has this project in his heart.

Come on, State and National Parks, Caltrans and Fish and Game, take a lead and make it happen. A major earthquake or heavy rain years will at some point put Last Chance Grade into the ocean.

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