Supes Watmaugh decision draws flak
THE COUNTY’S Board of Supervisors, instead of the Planning Commission, will conduct the EIR review hearing on the Watmaugh Bridge.
In a procedural move, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors last week took original jurisdiction over the Watmaugh Bridge project environmental impact report.
This means the Supervisors, instead of the county’s planning commission, will conduct a hearing on the environmental review, tentatively at its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 16.
The Watmaugh Bridge, spanning Sonoma Creek southwest of city limits, has been rated as structurally insufficient and in danger of collapsing in a large flood or earthquake.
But the supervisors’ assumption of jurisdiction over the EIR didn’t resonate well with bridge supporters.
In July, the Supervisors awarded a $500,000 contract for design work on the bridge to replace the 80-plus-year-old structure that has a sufficiency rating of 4 out of a possible 100. The Mississippi River bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis five years ago, as an example, had a sufficiency rating of 50.
First District Supervisor Valerie Brown requested the Supervisors take original jurisdiction over the EIR to expedite the process so the county doesn’t lose any funding for the bridge.
Brown said the full board is the “perfect avenue” to review the pros and cons of the project.
“We’re going to give this a full public hearing,” Brown said. “No one will be denied their public process. They can comment, write letters and ask for further information.”
The county has been conducting hearings and meetings on the bridge since May 2010.
“We’ve looked at all aspects of the project,” Brown said. “We’re boxed into a corner.”
The county’s Public Works and Transportation Department originally proposed replacing the 22-foot-wide bridge that has no pedestrian or bike lanes with one that was 40-feet-wide. But local residents raised a hue and cry that made Public Works back down from its original proposal.
The proposed bridge now would be 32-feet-wide with two 11-foot-wide traffic lanes and two five-foot-pedestrian/bike lanes.
Public Works also proposed using the existing trusses on the bridge – but as an ornamental element not a structural one.
“The bottom line, is that we’re going to have to replace that bridge. We know what Caltrans has told us about retrofitting,” she said. “I believe we’ve dotted all our ‘is’ and crossed all our ‘ts.’”
But Nancy Simpson, a bridge preservation proponent, said she’s curious how and why Napa County could save its historic stone bridges but Sonoma County doesn’t appear to be interested.
“Why could Napa County work with Caltrans, Napa Public Works (to) restore the bridges with state and federal money but we can’t,” she asked.
Calling what has happened to the Watmaugh Bridge, “demolition by neglect,” she said historic preservation doesn’t mean letting it stand without maintenance or upkeep.
“A new bridge negates the historical significance,” she said. “I don’t think (county) staff understands the preservation of historic structures in the county.”
She felt the Supervisors had already made a decision on the motion to return the EIR review to the Supervisors because the action was on the consent calendar, which is usually given perfunctory approval.
But Brown said it was a procedural move and that other Supervisors have done the same thing.
“I’m frustrated,” Simpson said. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask of our elected officials to be creative. If they can do it all over the country, why not here?”
Brown sees the bridge replacement as a safety issue.
“We’ve been going through this process for a long time,” she said. “Safety is the highest priority.”