North Coast vacation spot gets emergency access

November 10, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Jenner, a small town on Sonoma County's north coast is a popular vacation spot, but for five years there have been long delays in emergency fire and medical service that has to come from out of town. Now all that is about to change thanks to dedicated volunteers who refused to give up.

An 18,000 pound plank swinging over Jenner Creek might as well be a victory flag. In just a few hours the planks became a new bridge that will get the town's fire engine into the town.

"The people had the right idea, they had the drive to get it done," Monte Rio Fire District Chief Steve Baxman said.

The problem began five years ago when the bridge over Jenner Creek was condemned after a big storm damaged the footings.

The fire station is on one side of the creek, the town is on the other.

In the old days, the townspeople might have spent a weekend just fixing the bridge themselves, but that is not an option now.

"We have to meet the requirements of 11 different agencies," Jenner Community Club President David Kenly said.

Those agencies required a new, much stronger bridge and there were lots of environmental rules because the creek is a protected salmon area that feeds the Russian River.

The job was going to cost $400,000 and while Jenner has lots of tourists who depend on emergency services, it only has about 120 residents to share the cost.

The fundraising took five years. The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to pay three-quarters of the money, but the town was left to raise the rest with community events and bake sales.

"$80,000 is a lot of brownies," volunteer Mary Fish said.

After ABC7 ran a story, the donations and grants picked up enough to finally start construction.

"We're still hoping by the time this is done, the money will be there, we're very close," Jenner Community Club Vice President Cher Ares said.

The work started in October. It is a huge undertaking with elaborate protections for the salmon. First the crew built a temporary dam and funneled the stream into a pipe as volunteers moved the fish to a safer area.

"We went around with buckets full of water and little nets and actually meticulously walked through the whole creek, pulling them out from all their hiding places," Kenly said.

After the abutments were built, 400 tons of rock was put in place, small pieces on top - big ones underneath.

"In some cases down here at the base, some of the rocks are about half the size of a Volkswagen," Will Harvey of Sharp Engineering said.

Salmon like fallen trees to create hiding places so redwood roots were anchored into the stream.

"These are 15 feet long, so there's about 5 feet out in the river, 10 feet is in the bank; they were drilled and bolted to the boulder," Harvey said.

With the stream bed ready, the bridge was ready to go in ? an event that was met with celebration by local firefighters and volunteers.

Now the town of Jenner is starting to think about the next challenge -- staffing the fire station.

"We're all volunteer, but there are still certain requirements you have to meet, First Aid, CPR, firefighter training," Baxman said.

There are no trained volunteers living in town anymore, but Jenner is counting on the old axiom -- if you build it, they will come.

The fundraising will also continue a while longer. The construction cost $35,000 more than expected, so they still need more money.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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