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Disagreement could delay tearing down Matilija Dam

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  • Paul Jenkin
    Matilija Dam in the news. More info on the proposal in question here: http://www.venturariver.org/2010/01/matilija-dam-upstream-sediment-storage.html
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 2010

      Matilija Dam in the news.  

      Disagreement could delay tearing down Matilija Dam by years

      By Zeke Barlow

      Tuesday, February 2, 2010

      The sediment that built up behind Matilija Dam — rendering it useless — was one of the reasons people wanted to tear it down.

      Now reaching an agreement on what to do with that same sediment is proving to be the hardest part of the massive project to remove the dam. It’s an issue some fear could stop its removal.

      ‘“This project is hanging by a thread right now,” said Jeff Pratt, Ventura County Public Works director, adding that if a consensus isn’t reached it could “die a de facto death.”

      The problem is 2 million cubic feet of fine sediment trapped behind the dam on the Ventura River. After officials in charge of the project said the two original ideas for moving the sediment downstream proved too costly or unpopular with landowners, they recently proposed a third option — trucking the sediment about 2 miles upstream of the dam. It would be placed beside the creek, mixed with concrete and covered with dirt; ultimately it could have vegetation on it.

      But some environmental groups question the proposal, saying building a concrete structure in the flood plain flies in the face of the idea of tearing down a concrete structure to restore nature.

      “The whole point was restoration of the river, which really requires that the natural processes are restored,” said Paul Jenkin, chairman of the Matilija Coalition. “I don’t think this plan is in keeping with that original plan. It is not clear to me what it is going to take to get the project back on track.”

      About 6 million cubic feet of rock, dirt, cobblestones, sand and fine sediment sit behind the dam. The original proposal to plow a channel through the backup and allow 4 million cubic feet of the larger buildup to eventually flow downstream to the sea still stands. But it’s the fine sediment, called fines, that is the challenge.

      “It is our Achilles heel,” said Jim Hutchison, lead planner for the project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

      Jenkin said years were spent on a feasibility plan that was agreed upon by the many divergent groups. He argued studying this new proposal to get rid of the fine sediment, which changes the agreement that had been worked out, could add years to the project. Biological opinions on the impact of the new proposal have not be addressed, he said.

      But the proponents of the new plan, including Supervisor Steve Bennett who has been trying to drum up support for it, said it causes the least environmental impact compared to the other two proposals. He argued it will require less land, fewer resources and impact fewer landowners in the long run.

      “There is a compromise no matter where you put these ‘fines,’ ” he said. “This is very reasonable.”

      Pratt said without a consensus on what to do with the fines, the entire project is at risk and could languish for years without ever being finished.

      This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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