Beavers OK after creek construction

October 30, 2008 5:08:47 PM PDT
Construction workers have nearly completed a project to shore up the bank of Alhambra Creek in downtown Martinez, and a family of beavers living nearby appears to have survived unscathed.

On Tuesday, the crew finished driving about 170 feet of steel pilings into the eastern side of the creek bank between Escobar Street and Marina Vista, Martinez Building Inspector Jeff Taylor said today.

Gravel was later poured into the gap between the pilings and the bank, and, weather permitting, the crew plans to pour cement on top of the gravel Friday, Taylor said.

Four beaver kits were seen Tuesday evening happily eating apples, Martinez City Councilman Mark Ross said.

"As far as we know, everything seems to be fine in the world of the beavers," Ross said.

Linda Meza, spokeswoman for the beaver advocacy group "Worth a Dam," said the last time all eight beavers were seen was Oct. 23.

"The real issue here is... that the city pushed through a project based on lies," Meza said.

Members of Worth a Dam have claimed all along that the $400,000 project was unnecessary, but Wednesday they found more evidence for their argument.

Photographs taken in 1999, long before the beavers moved into the creek in 2006, show a crack in the retaining wall at Bertola's Restaurant on Escobar Street, Meza said. Worth a Dam member Jon Ridler found the photos at the Martinez Museum.

A city engineer claimed the beavers had burrowed underneath the wall, creating erosion that caused the crack and could lead to the wall's collapse.

The photograph, however, shows that the wall has a concrete footing, a material that even a beaver wouldn't be able to burrow through, according to Meza.

Because of the concrete footing, the burrows in the bank in front of the retaining wall wouldn't impact the stability of the wall itself, Meza said.

Ross, meanwhile, claimed the city was mainly concerned with the stability of the bank immediately to the north of the retaining wall, which was where most of the burrows were found.

A report from Martinez City Engineer Tim Tucker, however, states that the independent engineer the city hired to evaluate the alleged erosion on the bank found that "severe undermining and potential collapse of retaining wall features into the creek are probable during moderate to high creek flows."

Because the rainy season was fast approaching and the adjacent property owners were threatening to sue the city if it didn't shore up the bank, the City Council passed an emergency ordinance to begin construction immediately.

Calling it an emergency allowed the city to bypass environmental review of the project.

Ross said that when the city undertook its $9.7 million flood control project to widen and rehabilitate Alhambra Creek, it had planned to put sheet piling along the bank at the current project site, but ran out of money.

When property owners threatened to sue the city, council members decided installing the pilings now would be "better than paying attorneys $200,000 to debate whether it's needed or not," Ross said.

"It's better to have the creek improved than to have the lawyers' offices improved," Ross said.

Heidi Perryman, founder of Worth a Dam, however, wrote on the group's Web site Wednesday that instead of using the 1999 photos to avoid the lawsuit, city officials "met in secret, voted in secret, omitted in secret, and lied in public. They spent nearly half a million of your tax-payer dollars on a Faustian contract that had nothing to do with public safety."


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