Watmaugh bridge back on the hot seat
The Sonoma County Department of Transportation and Public Works stunned residents on Watmaugh Road and supporters of the preservation of Sonoma's historic landmarks, when it simply emailed a statement and plan to them that the county was planning to condemn, and ultimately take by eminent domain, lands owned by the Niles family, and a lessor portion owned by the Sangiacomo family, in order to construct another bridge next to the historic Watmaugh Road Bridge.
This bridge proposal entails condemnation of private property and includes the closure of the existing Historic Landmark #103 to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
If allowed, construction of a modern 40-foot-wide bridge, would cause more and faster transient traffic to travel between Napa and Petaluma and would destroy one of the most rural and historic areas remaining in southern Sonoma Valley. Apparently, not much thought had been given to the fact that more than 20 heritage trees, several being more than 120 years old with a circumference of over 30 feet, will be destroyed in the process of taking a 30-foot wide swath of property from a front yard of a historic home as well as impact the rural character of the road.
Two alternative possibilities include, 1) retrofitting the existing bridge, thereby preserving its historical landmark status and making it safer; and 2) removing and destroying the existing bridge and building a new 30-foot wide bridge in its current location.
Most of the funding for either alternative would come from federal and state funds available through Proposition 1B, the Local Bridge Seismic Retrofit Account, but the Citizens for the Preservation of Sonoma County Historic Bridges (CPSCHB) have been told by county representatives that only the funds for a new bridge are immediately available.
The county's procedure for building the additional bridge and taking the property by eminent domain, does not require, 1) design review, 2) presentation to the Sonoma County Landmarks Commission, 3) a public hearing, or 4) an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
The Sonoma County Landmarks Commission should be given full design review of any bridge improvement project at the site of the historic Watmaugh Bridge as any improvement project will affect the historic resources and character of the historic bridge and the rural and historic homes in the area. Even the Sonoma County Department of Transportation and Public Works staff has implied that the construction of a new concrete box bridge next to a historic bridge would change the setting and could have an adverse effect on a historic resource.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation declared Sonoma as one of its "Dozen Distinctive Destinations" for 2011. The very thing that Sonoma has been so diligent about saving is what the Sonoma County Department of Transportation and Public Works is trying to destroy.
It is important to preserve Sonoma's rich and diverse history. There will be an economic impact as a result of the removal of our historic resources. Sonoma Valley is a tourist destination, which is not only a pleasant experience, but also an economic benefit to the community. Historic landmarks are an integral part of that experience. Local residents treasure those landmarks and the historical significance of the Valley.
Condemning private property and acquisition by eminent domain, with destruction of properties and structures with special historic, architectural and cultural significance is unacceptable.
Retrofitting, repairs, maintenance and responsible stewardship should be utilized as a means of historic preservation. The 1998 Historic Bridge Resolution was passed by the county to specifically do this and preserve the Watmaugh Road Bridge, as well as other historic Sonoma County bridges. The Sonoma City Council has endorsed this viewpoint.
The County of Sonoma Department of Transportation and Public Works staff will present this revised proposal of the Landmark Commission for comments at its Tuesday, June 7 public meeting, at 5 p.m. at the Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department Hearing Room, at 2550 Ventura Ave. Santa Rosa.
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Johanna Patri represents Citizens for the Preservation of Sonoma County Historic Bridges.