Letter: Alamada Creek Alliance to San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
March 25, 2011
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
1155 Market Street, 11th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
Niles Canyon Highway Widening Project and Destruction of Trout Habitat
Dear Mr. Harrington:
The Alameda Creek Alliance was dismayed to learn this week from Tim Ramirez of the SFPUC Natural Resources Division that the SFPUC in June of 2010 transferred title and gave legal easements of 1.7 acres of SFPUC lands in Niles Canyon along Alameda Creek to the California Department of Transportation for construction of phase one of the Niles Canyon Highway â€œImprovementâ€ Project in lower Niles Canyon.
Your agency is likely aware of the destructive nature of this project and the significant ecological damage all phases of this project will cause to Alameda Creek and trout habitat in Niles Canyon. Indeed your agency submitted formal comments on the draft EIR for phase two of the project outlining concerns about removal of native trees within in the Alameda Creek riparian corridor, the loss of shading and potential effects on steelhead rearing and spawning habitat, and the hydrologic and habitat effects from proposed retaining walls and rip-rap in the creek. Your agency remarked that â€œthe SFPUC is a member of the Alameda Creek Fisheries Restoration Workgroup and is committed to the restoration of steelheadâ€¦to the Alameda Creek Watershed.â€
The project area for phase one is now being subjected to these very same impacts â€“ over 80 native trees have been cut down in the riparian corridor, and Caltrans plans to excavate and fill portions of Alameda Creek with cement retaining walls and rip-rap that will significantly damage and degrade trout habitat in lower Niles Canyon.
Your agency is also likely aware of the controversial nature of the approval by Caltrans of phase one of the project â€“ the overwhelming public opposition, significant information contradicting the Caltrans assertions about the need for the project and the purported safety benefits, the severe impacts to the environment, scenic beauty, and historical significance of Alameda Creek and Niles Canyon, and impacts on the communities of Niles and Sunol.
The SFPUC has been involved since 1999 with ongoing multi-agencies efforts to restore steelhead trout to Alameda Creek as part of the Alameda Creek Fisheries Restoration Workgroup. The SFPUC recently completed environmental review for the Calaveras Dam Replacement Project, which includes extensive provisions to provide fish passage, improve stream flow, and restore and monitor aquatic habitat for steelhead within the Alameda Creek watershed. In 2006 the SFPUC removed two dams from Niles Canyon within the Caltrans phase one project area to aid in steelhead restoration. The SFPUC is initiating a restoration program for the Sunol Valley reach of Alameda Creek just above Niles Canyon. The Fisheries Workgroup and the SFPUC are currently conducting extensive studies of potential steelhead habitat and stream flow in Alameda Creek, including in the Niles Canyon reach. The Niles Canyon reach has been identified by the Fisheries Workgroup as significant for migration and rearing of steelhead.
I am trying to understand why the Real Estate division of the SFPUC would sell public land and give legal easements to Caltrans as part of a destructive and unnecessary project to cut and kill hundreds of native trees and destroy miles of steelhead trout habitat along Alameda Creek, while the Water Enterprise and Natural Resources divisions of the SFPUC are publicly supporting steelhead restoration and investigating trout habitat within Niles Canyon in the project area.
We understand there is a lot of confusion about the three phases of this Caltrans project, and our organization did not understand the full impacts or relatedness of the projects until recently. Our organization has pursued replacement of the Stonybrook Creek culvert under Highway 84 with a bridge – which Caltrans has included as part of phase one of the project, although it could be removed as a stand-alone project. However, we clearly do not support the tree cutting and fill of Alameda Creek or the highway widening project. I am hoping the SFPUC may not have fully understood the implications of this land transfer when it was approved. Why did the SFPUC not refuse to transfer the land or challenge the unacceptable environmental impacts of the project? We are not blaming the SFPUC for this project, but we have some questions and concerns we hope you can answer, and seek some assurances about the SFPUCâ€™s role in future phases of the project:
1) What construction activities are approved for the SFPUC parcels that have already been transferred to Caltrans? Were these parcels located where the tree-cutting has occurred or where further vegetation removal will occur? Will creek excavation or fill, installation of cement retaining walls, or placement of rip-rap occur on the SFPUC parcels that were transferred? Were the former SFPUC parcels used or will they be used for staging or access to construction areas?
2) Has Caltrans illegally cut any trees on SFPUC property that was not part of the 2010 land sale and easements?
3) Has the SFPUC already agreed or does the agency plan to sell or transfer or grant easement to Caltrans any additional SFPUC lands for any further phases of the project in Niles Canyon? If so, how do we stop this agreement or cancel such plans?
4) Why would the Real Estate division of the SFPUC and SFPUC staff not flag the destructive nature of this project and the harm it will do to trout habitat? Why was the Commission not informed of the damage to trout restoration this project would cause before it approved the sale and transfer? More importantly, how can we prevent this from happening again?
The damage Caltrans has already done to the riparian corridor in Niles Canyon is heartbreaking and the overall project is nothing short of unnecessary environmental vandalism. The planned construction not yet completed in phase one and the proposed phases two and three will cause significant damage to Alameda Creek and would be a setback to steelhead restoration efforts. I know the SFPUC does not support such destruction. We hope you can answer our questions about the SFPUC land sale and ensure further public lands with valuable trout habitat under the stewardship of the SFPUC are not sacrificed for this project.
cc: SFPUC Commissioners
Michael Carlin, SFPUC Deputy General Manager
Steven Ritchie, SFPUC Water Enterprise Assistant General Manager
Tim Ramirez, Natural Resources Division