Public weighs in on dam dig

PASADENA — Plans to remove up to 4 million cubic yards of dirt from behind Devil's Gate Dam are provoking concerns about the destruction of wilderness, heavy truck traffic and the possible presence of Native American remains.

More than 60 people — including members of the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians worried that bones of their ancestors may have mingled with sediment deposits behind the dam — gathered Wednesday at the Rose Bowl for a meeting that kicked off a two-year environmental review process ordered by the county. A second public meeting is set for 9 a.m. Saturday in the cafeteria at La Cañada High School, 4463 Oak Grove Drive in La Cañada Flintridge.

The study will determine the size of the dig after weighing impacts on Hahamongna Watershed Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Excavation behind Devil's Gate would begin in spring 2014 and could continue for five years, according to Los Angeles County Department of Public Works officials.

The county's preliminary proposal calls for trucks hauling dirt to Azusa and Irwindale to make their way to the Foothill (210) Freeway through a small portion of La Cañada Flintridge. Trucks would enter Oak Grove Drive near La Cañada High, then travel less than a half-mile to Berkshire Place before reaching the freeway.

County workers had hoped to remove 1.6 million cubic yards of dirt earlier this year, but opposition to truck traffic and the destruction of 50 acres of woodland prompted the county Board of Supervisors to order an environmental review.

Now the department wants to dig out 2.6 million cubic yards already in the reservoir, plus another 1.4 million cubic yards expected to flow in over the next two years, project manager Keith Lilley said.

In terms of scale, roughly 400,000 cubic yards of dirt would fill the Rose Bowl.

“We're not just talking about removing a pile of sediment, but actually going in to establish a reservoir more suitable for [long-term] sustainable management,” Lilley said at Wednesday's meeting.

When work ends in 2019, some areas “could remain permanently untouched … for habitat preservation and restoration,” Lilley said.

The number of acres affected by a 4-million-cubic-yard removal project remains unclear, officials said, but an initial study document estimates that up to 175 acres are in play.

Hahamongna Watershed Park encompasses 1,300 acres. The flood plain and reservoir form 300 of those acres.

Rose Bowl Operating Co. board member Dennis Murphy pressed the county to accelerate work, saying he feared damage to the stadium if runoff overwhelms the dam before a cleanout.

“We could have a catastrophe. We're spending $150 million on [upgrades to] the Rose Bowl, and you could wipe it out,” he said.

For the Gabrieleños, it's what might go with the dirt that is of concern.

Tribal Secretary Christina Swindall-Martinez said research indicates a massacre of more than 1,000 Native Americans may have taken place in 1824 in the Arroyo Seco Canyon above Devil's Gate.

She believes erosion during post-Station-fire storms may have carried remains toward the dam. She asked county officials to allow the group to appoint a monitor for the dig.

“For all we know, this entire canyon could be littered with human remains,” she said.

The county is accepting written public comments through Nov. 11. Email
reservoircleanouts@dpw. or write to DPW Water Resources Division, PO Box 1460, Alhambra 91802-9974.

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