Residents Feel Neglected In Chabot Dam Reconstruction Process

Seismic retrofitting of the dam will start next year.

With the planned retrofitting of the Chabot Dam slated to start next year, San Leandro residents made their concerns clear to the East Bay Municipal Utility District last Thursday.

Last Thursday’s meeting was the second of required community engagement meetings held by EBMUD to allow residents to express their concerns with the reconstruction project.

Local residents living near the park focused on parking availability and noise levels as construction workers enter and leave the park in the early hours of the morning and leave late at night.

“It’s already a huge impact in our lives as it is,” said Dale Gregory, a local resident. Another resident jumped in, adding that it is “literally not possible” to get into her home when there are camps and other summer activities taking place in the park, due to cars parked in the immediate residential area.

The Chabot Dam was first built by Anthony Chabot in 1874 and underwent seismic retrofitting in 1980 to ensure the dam would not break during an earthquake. The second round of retrofitting is estimated to start by fall 2014 and will take a year to complete.

EBMUD stresses that the dam is “safe.” The retrofitting project as proscribed by the Federal Bureau of Dams is required to make sure the dam functions properly.

Currently water from the dam is used for fighting forest fires and watering golf courses. The dam also has the potential to be used as an emergency water supply, according to EBMUD’s website.

The entrance to Chabot Park from San Leandro is located directly next to a residential area. A one lane bridge that leads into the park sits just a few yards from a resident’s home. Individuals who do not want to park inside of the park often choose to leave their cars outside next to the houses in the area, residents said.

By law, EBMUD cannot force construction workers to park inside the park instead of residential areas, because legally they are free to park on public roads. Only the city can prohibit parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

Michelle Blackwell, the community affairs representative for the project, said that in previous projects the greatest concerns residents have had are noise, dust and traffic. The workers will be in the park from 7a.m. to 7p.m. she said, but after those hours residents may still hear the hum of mixing machines working the soil.

Present at the meeting was the Friends of the San Leandro Creek, a group established with the goal of restoring natural wildlife to the San Leandro Creek. The creek’s point of origin is Lake Chabot. Its members, led by San Leandro councilmember Michael Gregory, hope to work with EBMUD to restore what it deems natural creek water levels to the creek.

Mayor Stephen Cassidy expressed interest in the project during a city council meeting two weeks ago. Frank Mellon, however, as member of the board of directors of EBMUD, has repeatedly informed the group that the project is not fiscally possible.

“The amount of money it would take to restore it to any kind of natural level isn’t just the million dollars I’m talking about here, it is multimillion,” said Mellon.

EBMUD confirmed that the dam would be able to change creek flows through manipulation of the dam. However they hold adamantly that such changes would not restore natural wildlife to the creek.

“Releasing additional water for fish downstream is not likely to improve fishery conditions unless additional downstream improvements are made to restore the creek to a natural state. Any additional releases will reduce storage for other needs,” the EBMUD website states.

Blackwell added that to earmark funds to restore the creek would constitute a “gift of public funds” to the residents of San Leandro. EBMUD is funded largely through taxes, and has had financial difficulties in recent years. Last week they announced that rates to taxpayers would increase over the next two years to help fund ongoing upgrade projects.

Juan Gonzalez, a local resident in the community, said he was not satisfied with the meeting. He cited a seeming “reticence” by EBMUD to acknowledge the legitimacy of the concerns residents have of the project.

“I don’t believe they’re recognizing that impact [on the community], and showing interest or flexibility in addressing it,” said Gonzalez.

Gregory added to Gonzalez’s statement candidly, “Their feeling is ‘go away’, and they will stay that course.”

A draft report that will detail the environmental impact of the project, as well as other details will be ready by winter 2013 and will be available on their website, EBMUD said.