Local officials meet with Army Corps of Engineers

City and county officials plan to keep the Crescent City jetty open to foot traffic, but people who get in trouble out there may face fines of up to $4,000 for the rescue effort that gets them back to safety.

Local officials and volunteers with the Del Norte County Search and Rescue team took Lt. Col. John Baker of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers onto the jetty Thursday, pointing out graffiti-covered warning signs and the aluminum cable that rescuers use in emergencies.

They also discussed a proposed memorandum of understanding that would allow the city and county to impose fines for rescue efforts, install new warning signs and make other improvements that would reduce the personal risk to Del Norte Search and Rescue volunteers.

"We want to work collaboratively with you," said county Supervisor Roger Gitlin. "Two-thirds of this community want to keep the jetty open, but we can't prevent people from wandering into the world of stupidhood. We want to ensure public safety and recoup costs."

Gitlin had invited representatives of the Corps of Engineers, which owns the jetty, to Crescent City after a Santa Cruz man was swept into the harbor here in late December. Emergency personnel were able to reach him and transport him to Sutter Coast Hospital.

Sheriff's Office and Police Department

officials have said they are unable to cite people who walk on the jetty, even during obviously dangerous wave conditions, because the structure is not city or county property. An agreement with the Corps of Engineers would be needed to do that, according to Police Chief Doug Plack.

On Thursday, Public Affairs Chief J.D. Hardesty said the Corps of Engineers does have a concurrent jurisdiction agreement with Crescent City and Del Norte County dating back to the 1990s. The planned MOU will clarify what each party is responsible for when it comes to the jetty, he said.

"The MOU delineates who's doing what," Hardesty said.

As for measures to reduce the risk to rescuers, volunteer Harold Watkins said Search and Rescue would like to take the aluminum safety cable that currently runs alongside the jetty and place it on top of the structure. The team plans to repair the cable, which is currently broken, so that it runs the length of the jetty, and install bolts every 50 feet, allowing rescuers to avoid being swept off themselves.

Watkins also asked permission to drill 4- to 6-inch holes every 50 feet with eye bolts that would allow rescuers to attach a safety cable to the jetty. The Search and Rescue Team also plans to repaint the numbers on top of the jetty and apply an anti-rust compound to the existing gates.

Gitlin said the Search and Rescue Team, which is operated through the Sheriff's Office, would pay for the improvements.

Baker, commander of the Corps of Engineers' San Francisco district, said he had no objection as long as the work did not compromise the integrity of the structure. He also suggested that the city and county adopt a program that would track the number of days gone by without a jetty-related fatality and post a sign where the public could see it.

"What the Army does at some of its bases is they have a big sign put up as you leave the base (with) the number of days since the last traffic fatality," he said, adding that the sign is often paired with a flashing traffic signal that changes from green to yellow to red depending on the number listed. "It seems to catch people's attention."

The last fatality on the jetty occurred in 2008 when waves swept a local doctor Onik Arian, 61, off the structure and onto the rocks below. Arian, who had been participating in the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, died of blunt force head trauma.

As he meandered along the jetty Thursday, Baker stopped a Washington state woman and her stepson who tried to get by.

"We want to make sure you're safe out here," Baker said. "This is Army Corps of Engineers property."

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com.