Heidi Graham
Del Norte Triplicate

While local activist Kurt Stremberg maintains a request by Colorado for more testing at Last Chance Grade will likely mean more delays, Del Norte County Supervisor David Finigan says Colorado’s request actually means plans for a bypass are progressing.

A detailed Project Study Report was submitted by Caltrans for the Last Chance Grade (LCG) in July. But the Colorado branch from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) has told Caltrans District 1 needs to do more drilling.

Stremberg, chairman of a Bypass Around Last Chance Grade said, “While (the) FHWA in the CA (California) office is in full support of moving forward with a bypass, the Colorado District office says they need more information to go ahead. They want more studies, more geological work and more drilling.”

“If it wasn’t for our (stakeholders) committee, formed in 2011/12, LCG would not even be in the radar,” said Stremberg, whose parents died in 1972 after an unstable Last Chance Grade collapsed, tumbling into the Pacific Ocean.

“The board of supervisors in Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino counties are in full support. We need Del Norte County supervisors to correlate their efforts as well,” Stremberg said.

“What happens if we allow LCG to fall into the ocean? It will be like (the) 1964 (tsunami) all over again. We are still in recovery,” he said.

Finigan, a member of the U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman’s Last Chance Grade stakeholders group said, “The FHA crew from Colorado have been out here once. They continue to look for bypass options. Most mudslides occur because of the water in the dirt. LCG is a fractured formation with building blocks one on top of another.

“The discovery,” said Finigan, “is that LCG can’t be dewatered. This led to the Emergency Proclamation.

“The Colorado branch of FHA is a government agency; they don’t want to take ‘the other guys word for it’ (the Project Study Report). They want to spend money on a second opinion. Sacramento did their paperwork, now Colorado branch is doing theirs, then it goes to Washington,” said Finigan.

Finigan explained there has been significant drilling for geographical studies. The drilling shows how deep the slip train is.

“Upon first indication, the Colorado branch agreed. Now they’re looking for more resources. This means we’re moving forward,” Finigan said.

“There is supposed to be a high level meeting within 30 days of the Project Study Report,” said Finigan. “We are waiting for a response from the Colorado branch of FHA.”

Finigan said work is being done parallel to the FHA paperwork. Stakeholders, county supervisors and tribes continue researching funding sources, geological requirements and studies and findings regarding LCG’s alternate routes, he said.

Caltrans spokesman Myles Cochrane said via email the proclamation for a state of emergency recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown initiated the Emergency Relief (ER) program, which is administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Each state division of FHWA, performs many functions, including administration and oversight of a multitude of transportation programs, including the ER Program, which can only be initiated via a select few actions, including either a presidential or gubernatorial proclamation for a state of emergency necessary to acquire federal funding.

Cochrane said once the ER Program is initiated, Caltrans submits applications for reimbursement of funds spent in immediately responding to the emergency event and stabilization of the roadway damage that occurred, as well as a request for funding of a project that restores the roadway facility to pre-damage conditions.

The ER Program has specific requirements and constraints that must be followed, in order to qualify for funding, he said.

Cochrane said, “Our website contains many presentations and documents that detail the many requirements and constraints of the ER Program, and how they impact our ability to request and acquire funding for a project to perform the magnitude and type of work that is needed to create a stable and reliable alignment through or around LCG. Given that Caltrans has been meeting with the…(California) Division of FHWA for over a year prior to the actual proclamation, working with them in search of all possible federal funding sources, Caltrans had already requested a geotechnical review…(and) analysis from a unique division of FHWA, who are part of a division located in Colorado called the Service Center.”

According to Cochrane, in April, Caltrans’ engineers and geologists met with specialists from the Colorado Service Center and performed a three-day inspection of LCG, which included a detailed field review; a review of all existing geotechnical studies and analysis performed to date; as well as review of the engineered feasibility study and the seven roadway alignment alternatives currently being considered in the completed Project Study Report.

Cochrane said, “For approval and use of ER Program funding for a project that includes any alignment changes, one of the exceptions determined necessary by the…(California) Division of FHWA, was that the geotechnical specialists from the FHWA (Colorado) Service Center concur with Caltrans’ engineers, geologists, and geotechnical engineers that it is infeasible to design and build a project that creates a stable and reliable section of roadway along the existing alignment.

“The (Colorado) Service Center specialists review,” said Cochrane, “Resulted in agreement upon the magnitude of the problem, as well as agreement with the emergency repair strategies being implemented by our maintenance forces and contract projects, however they determined that additional analysis and investigations would be necessary to fund a significant project that re-aligned an existing fed-aid route.”

Cochrane said also explained that the types of studies required, as well as the limits of study are currently being discussed and should be determined by the end of this month.

Depending upon the types of studies and the access required for drilling, various permits may be necessary, which will directly impact the time it takes to complete all studies. The goal is to acquire any necessary permits and install monitoring wells and borings, such that they will provide sufficient quality data that helps characterize the subsurface conditions for the entire limits of LCG over the upcoming rainy season.

According to Cochrane no additional geotechnical studies should be necessary. Headquarters FHWA in Washington D.C. will need to be involved in the approval of funding any ER Program project in excess of $100 million. Additionally, they will need to approve the exceptions of the requirements of the ER Program.

Asked if the analytical drilling for geotechnical studies impact the stability of the road, Cochrane said given the type of geology — a broken formation — and the minimal diameters of the borings required, which vary between four to six inches in diameter, they will have no impact on the stability of the existing roadway.

Reach Heidi Graham at hgraham@triplicate.com