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Cost of canal fix unknown

Access to site, stability of ground have been problems in starting construction, PG&E manager says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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PG&E is not yet focusing on the cost of a break in the 21-mile long Bear River Canal, but construction is set to begin Monday. Denny Boyles, spokesman for PG&E, said the company hopes to begin pouring concrete Monday in the chasm below the break. The concrete will eventually act as a support base for the fixed canal. “There are still some permitting questions that are being answered as we speak,” Boyles said in regard to construction moving forward. A landslide in the early morning hours of April 19 took out a portion of the Bear River Canal near Colfax High School. The cause of the landslide hasn’t been determined. PG&E representatives have said the cost of the repairs is expected to be over $1 million, but Boyles could not give an exact amount. “I have not heard anybody yet give a specific dollar figure,” Boyles said. “Our reaction to that is we are not really focusing on that yet. We are focusing, with the water agencies, on getting the interim and long-term fix in progress. I think (considering the cost) falls later. I would say it’s safe to bet someone is thinking about it, but the thinking hasn’t developed into a plan.” Bill Artery, who lives off Auburn Folsom Road on Lees Lane near Newcastle, said that as of Friday afternoon, he still didn’t have irrigation water. Artery said he hasn’t had water since the break occurred. Artery said the fact that the cost of the project and how it could potentially affect customers hasn’t been discussed causes him concern. “Well, yeah, in today’s day and age the way things are going, of course it does.” Artery said. “Anything about money is a factor.” Libby Weatherfield, who lives in the same neighborhood as Artery and also doesn’t have irrigation water, said she hopes rate increases don’t become an issue. “I’m not really interested in hearing about them raising rates until we get some water,” Weatherfield said. “I would like to see some pro-ration of my rates since it’s been so long since we’ve seen any water.” Boyles said as of Friday PG&E trucks were hauling water from Rollins Reservoir, to the north of the break, to Lake Arthur Reservoir above North Auburn. Boyles said starting Saturday the company was expecting to be transporting 40,000 gallons of water to supplement the loss to Placer County Water Agency and Nevada Irrigation District customers. Boyles said there are currently PG&E crews, four engineering contractors, a general contractor and a secondary sub-contractor working on the project. Boyles said someone is always on site working. “We are here around the clock,” he said. “We do have someone on site 24 hours a day right now.” On April 1 the portion of the canal that later broke was inspected, Boyles said. “It was part of an overall canal inspection, and there was no indication of problems at that point,” he said. Boyles said as construction begins the rest of the canal is being surveyed, especially in remote areas like where the break occurred. Don Axton owns seven acres of property surrounding the canal, including the area of the break. PG&E has an easement for the canal. Axton said he didn’t hear the canal break, but his nephew was camping a couple hundred feet away and the break woke him up. PG&E crews are trying to be as unobtrusive as possible at the site, but the incident is still having an impact on Axton’s family, he said. “The PG&E crews are great people who seem to care about the land and the people affected by this failure,” Axton said in an e-mail. “They have bent over backwards to try to help us through this. It has impacted my wife and I greatly. Our pristine scenic piece of Bear River paradise is gone. It’s a pile of brush, trees, root balls and boulders at the river’s edge. PG&E is cutting new access roads to the site. Trucks, tractors, surveyors and engineers are everywhere, tramping all over our property, marking this and that.” Steve Bennett, PG&E operations and maintenance manager, hosted a media visit at the canal break site Friday afternoon with about 12 camera crews and newspaper reporters in attendance. The site was reached after driving down a narrow, steep gravel road and then walking over a narrow dirt and rock path. Above the break was a steep wooded slope through which PG&E is making an access road in order to begin construction. Below the break was a treacherous rock and dirt face with the Bear River surging powerfully at the bottom. Bennett said he understands people are frustrated about the start date of construction, but that without a way to the break, crews can’t do the work. “You can’t get here to build anything until you get access,” Bennett said. “We took out a lot of trees because we were afraid they were going to fall right into where we were going to be working.” Bennett said some of the hazards workers face are the steep slope below, narrow walking trails, heavy congestion of various pieces of equipment, poison oak and ticks. Snakes could now also be an issue. Weatherfield said she is happy to hear that a temporary fix to the canal is expected in early June and a permanent fix expected by the end of June. “I think that would be great,” Weatherfield said “It makes me shudder to think of two to three more weeks where I’m patch working this water system.” Both Artery and Weatherfield said they hope PCWA can get them some water before June. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ------------------------------------------------------ Upcoming PCWA public hearing On May 10 the agency is conducting a public hearing to declare a state of emergency. At 5:30 p.m. the meeting will begin at Auburn’s Holiday Inn on Grass Valley Highway and then adjourn to Placer Hall at the Gold Country Fairgrounds. PCWA staff will be available with maps to answer questions at the fairgrounds from about 5:30-6 p.m. until the meeting officially starts. One topic of discussion is scheduled to be possible rate adjustments for irrigation customers, according to Dave Breninger, general manager of PCWA. If you are a PCWA or Nevada Irrigation District customer with little or no irrigation water, the Journal wants to hear from you. Contact reporter Bridget Jones at (530) 852-0235 or e-mail bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com.