Talk of the "Big Dig" invited reaction from people who came to the Rose Bowl on Wednesday night to hear the latest info on the Department of Public Works' much-discussed plan to in the Hahamongna Watershed Park.
Concerns and talk ranging from the eradication of nature, years of truck traffic and even the preservation of Gabrielino Indian culture filled the air as dozens of people trickled into the stadium's visitor's locker room. The public-input meeting is the first of two DPW is required to host as part of the process in assembling a
"This is just a starting point," said Keith Lilley, the project's manager. "Instead of doing an immediate project, we wanted to look at a long-term plan."
Lilley talked about the dam's origins in the 1920s and its evolution from a flood control measure into an area rife with natural park amenities and nearby communities. He also mentioned how the area still bears the scars of the 2009 Station Fire, which he said wiped out roughly 68 percent of the watershed park area.
According to the initial study and Lilley, the call for an EIR has led to the removal phase of the project starting in the spring of 2014. The project calls for the potential removal of up to 4 million cubic yards of sediment from the reservoir behind Devil’s Gate Dam, .
Lilley pointed out that there's 2.6 million cubic yards of excess sediment in the reservoir right now, but the removal's 2014 start date opens the door for two more storm seasons and therefore, more sediment to accumulate. During that window of time, he said, the county is implementing interim projects, such as the and the moving of excess materials to Johnson Field in an effort to reduce truck traffic.
McCafferty broke down the logistical odyssey of the EIR process, which can take up to roughly two years. He mentioned that starting from Sept. 28, the public has a 45-day window to offer feedback on the project (the last day is Nov. 11). He also detailed to those in attendance that the EIR will cover everything from the "visual character" of the area to the effect truck traffic will have on surrounding communities.
The Public Speaks
The time eventually came for members of the audience to speak, with the first comments leading to a historical revelation of the project area: it's apparently the site of the massacre of thousands of Gabrielino Indians ages ago by Mexican military, according to representatives of the tribe who attended the meeting.
Christina Swindall-Martinez, secretary for the tribe, said the scoping meeting seemed like the best opportunity to shed light on the recent discovery while asking the county to be mindful of potentially finding historical remnants of the tragedy - perhaps even human remains.
"We were just thinking, 'What do we even do with this?'" Swindall told Patch. "There could be such much history in there, and with all that sediment being moved … we don't want to lose it."
Other commenters, while mentioning the surprise regarding the site's past, harbored worries about the early plan's present state. Tim Brick, a member of the Arroyo Seco Foundation and board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, mentioned the "unformed" nature of the project and also asked the county to look into the "long-term viability" of the dam.
"These facilities are out of date," he said. "It is by no means clear that this is the best way to provide flood protection … Sediment is not a waste product."
Mitzi Shpak of Altadena delivered her concerns about weakened air quality in the wake of hundreds of thousands of diesel-fueled, sediment-hauling trucks in the presence of nearby communities. She pointed out the danger of air particulate matter to the lungs, and how the California Air Resources Board confirms that this had lead to thousands of premature deaths.
"There are also schools along the path," she said, urging the county to look at ways to mitigate her concerns, such as the use of low-emission or cleaner trucks.
Mary Barrie of La Canada Flintridge focused on air, traffic and nature, seeing "no reason for trucks to go down the streets in Altadena at all."
"I don't want to breathe the air for years," she added. "This is a chance for the county to be visionary. I hope you look at the cumulative impacts of all these projects. There isn't going to be a bush left in Hahamongna when all this is done … It is not going to be the Hahamongna we all know.
Mitch Marsch, who lives near Eaton Canyon, asked the county to not "turn the area into a wasteland," while fellow nature lover Dorothy Wong of Altadena aired concerns about the effect the project would have on habitats. She asked the county to "achieve a plan of balance" that could include shorter, low-impact truck routes.
"My big thing is the effect on animals and birds migrating. (Hahamongna) is full of nature, it is a nature corridor. If we take away (the animals) hiding places, we are taking away a very special thing."
Public comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. The complete initial study of the Devil's Gate Reservoir Sediment Removal and Management Project is also available.
The next public scoping meeting is scheduled for Oct. 15 at La Canada High School.