Groups, County Still at Odds Over ‘Big Dig’

Negotiations continue between the Arroyo Seco Foundation and Pasadena Audubon Society with the Los Angeles County Flood Control District over the Devil’s Gate Dam sediment removal project, as the sides were recently granted a 90-day extension by a Superior Court judge.
A notice of continuance was filed on Oct. 11 by the county with a future hearing set for Jan. 28 in a Los Angeles courtroom, according to the online database of the L.A. County Superior Court.
Tim Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, confirmed the postponement in an interview this week ahead of a scheduled Tuesday afternoon hearing in court.
“We regret the negotiations have been going so slow for a settlement,” Brick said. “There has been some progress. We agreed to an extension of this period.”
Officials have said the project, whose first phase began in late November, is expected to include up to 425 daily round trips by as many as 95 diesel trucks through the intersection of Berkshire Place and Oak Grove and onto the 210 Freeway.
The project, which county supervisors approved in November 2017, is aimed at removing 1.7 million cubic yards of sediment behind the dam at Hahamongna Watershed Park to increase flood protection and restore habitat within the Arroyo Seco Watershed. Work to clear out trees and vegetation began in late November; sediment removal began on May 21.
The hauling trucks used for the project stopped about three weeks in September to try to address dust issues. Since the hauling project began, there have been four violations related to dust, Bradley Whitaker, a spokesman with the South Coast Air Quality Management District said on Wednesday. Two wheel washers were installed before the hauling resumed on Sept. 30. A red flag warning from the National Weather Service for gusty winds and low humidity also resulted in the hauling trucks stopping on Oct. 10 and 11 before they resumed on Oct. 14.
Superior Court Judge James Chalfant made a tentative decision to halt the project in June, but the work continues as the county, Arroyo Seco Foundation and Pasadena Audubon Society try to negotiate the settlement.
Both the Arroyo Seco Foundation and Pasadena Audubon Society have sued over the environmental impact report for the project. They have stated the reduction of the scope of the operation from 2.4 million cubic yards to 1.7 million did not consider if new or additional mitigation measures were needed to reduce the impact on nearby habitat, the types of trucks that are used, air quality or dust issues.
L.A. County Public Works Director Mark Pestrella said in a statement on Wednesday the county continues to work closely with the Arroyo Seco Foundation and Pasadena Audubon Society toward an agreement.
Unless there’s an agreement, it is possible the judge could force the county to stop the project while an environmental impact report is recirculated with modifications to the project, county officials have said.
“The county has taken some steps during this period of time to improve the conditions we were concerned with,” Brick said. “But we’re not really satisfied yet with the level of discussion — in particular with regard to the long-term approach to the basin itself. What will happen after this initial excavation? During the initial period, they have done some things to improve monitoring of air quality conditions as well as to deal with the dust and mud problem that trucks have been tracking a lot of mud and dust out of the basin that’s created a lot of the problems.”
Brick acknowledged the county had put in wheel washers but there are other operational issues such as putting tarps on trucks, he said.
“In most other parts of the U.S., that is standard practice,” Brick said. “But they seem to be resisting. There are also some very serious concerns about the long-term approach and what the county does when they finish the four-year excavation program that they’re now embarked on. We’re looking for a restoration of the larger amount of habitat they’ve destroyed. That’s basically the point we’re still discussing.”
Brick alleges the county has destroyed about 60 or 70 acres of what he called “prime stream zone habitat,” including alluvial scrub habitat.
“We want to see a restoration of stream conditions in the basin after they leave,” Brick said. “We think of it as an invaluable stream area and they think of it as a maintenance area.”
In a statement, Laura Solomon, chair of the Pasadena Audubon Society, said she remains optimistic despite the delay in coming to a resolution.
“I am frustrated that this process is taking such a long time, but I remain hopeful that we can find a way ahead that protects the dam, the air quality for residents and the stream zone habitat,” Solomon said.

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