Last March at the Chamber of Commerce Economic Summit, an audience member asked Del Norte County Local Transportation Director Tamera Leighton about an alternate route around the precarious Last Chance Grade on Highway 101.
I have a great deal of respect for the LTC’s executive director, so I was naturally stunned by her response when she said, “ ... there will never, never, never be a road around Last Chance Grade.”
Did Tamera know something of which I was unaware? Why couldn’t there be a route built around this dangerous, unstable part of U.S. 101?
Recently, Supervisor Roger Gitlin announced at a Board of Supervisors meeting that he was forming a committee to put on fast-forward the recommendation to Caltrans for the study, decision and construction of a highway around Last Chance Grade.
Former Supervisor Chuck Blackburn and I are co-chairing this committee. Trees of Mystery owners John and Debbie Thompson have also signed on as ardent supporters, as has Dale Miller, chairman of Elk Valley Rancheria.
Chuck’s knowledge of the history of Last Chance is vast and deep. My experience is a sad one, which I would hope would never beset any family. My parents plunged to their deaths in the Pacific after dropping me off in Klamath as I was on my way to Europe with a friend after graduating from Sonoma State University and working locally.
My parents were heading back home when the summit of Last Chance Grade collapsed and disappeared into the ocean, taking them with it in 1972. It still brings back haunting memories four decades later.
Chuck and I head a growing list of Del Norters who want to see a permanent fix. I expect there will be a great deal of popular support to find an alternate highway around Last Chance Grade.
According to Caltrans, since 1997 almost $34 million has been spent to shore up Last Chance. In 2013 alone, $9.25 million has been allocated to fix the problem. With my greatest respect to Caltrans, I think we are spending good money over bad to, at best, put a band-aid on an open wound that is at the heart of Del Norte County. This crisis is not going away.
Despite the best efforts of the most knowledgeable and hard-working staff at Caltrans, I am of the opinion the forces of Mother Nature and gravity will ultimately prevail. That mountain will tumble down. When that happens, that event will create an economic disaster the likes of which Del Norte County and the entire 101 corridor through to Oregon has yet to experience.
Are you prepared for the following?
• A seven-hour detour around the breech from Crescent City to Klamath.
• Drastically higher prices for everything including food, gasoline, and other retail products. Trucked-in products will cost a lot more as additional transportation costs will be paid by the Del Norte consumer.
• Switching some of your specialized medical needs to Grants Pass or Medford.
• Del Norte High students living in Klamath will need to continue their education in Humboldt County since it will be unrealistic to make a simple drive to Crescent City.
• A complete collapse of the tourist trade, which brings in substantial dollars to our community.
• There will be a mass exodus from Del Norte County. The county will slowly die.
Presently, though there is a feasibility study under way, there is no firm commitment to build around Last Chance. That mindset must be changed. I can’t emphasis enough the dire need to fast-track the study and determine the most appropriate route to supplant the break in 101.
Perhaps Tamera meant the opposition from the environmental community will be so strong and so powerful that the needs of human beings would not prevail over environmentalists’ opposition to building a route through the park.
I do not know the answer to that question other than to say the basic needs of people have and will continue to come first.
Time is of the essence. For every day with nothing being done, we are one day closer to impending doom. I hope you will contact me and join our effort to encourage Caltrans to find and build a permanent highway around Last Chance Grade.