The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presented its plan for relocating the U.S. Forest Service’s administrative and recreation facilities to area residents during a series of public meetings held this week in Lake Isabella, Kernville and Bakersfield.
The purpose of the meetings was to discuss the Draft Supplemental Environmental Assessment (DSEA) that was released to the public last month. The DSEA outlines how the Corps proposes to mitigate the recreational impacts associated with the Isabella Lake Dam Safety Modification Project. The document also addresses the locations for the Forest Service’s administrative and fire response facilities.
The first meeting was held on Monday, Dec. 7 in Lake Isabella where residents were able to view a set of graphics showing the proposed plans for the two Forest Service facilities which include a fire response station in Lake Isabella and a new administrative facility in Kernville. For many of the attendees, it was the first time they saw visual renderings of the two facilities.
As the meeting opened, Tyler Stalker, Public Information Officer with the Corps of Engineers announced that they had extended the public comment on the DSEA to January 4, 2016 from the previous comment deadline of Dec. 19. The extended deadline was in response to a request received from the local Dam Task Force stating that the Dec. 19 deadline did not allow enough time to review the 160-page document.
The Isabella Dam Safety Modification Project will raise both the Auxiliary and Main dam by 16 feet. Consequently, the existing Forest Service administrative office and fire response complex currently located off Ponderosa Drive will have to be removed prior to any construction on the dams or spillway.
The DSEA identifies an undeveloped 4.1-acre parcel off of Hwy 178 behind California Water Service’s office as the preferred site for the location of a two-bay fire response station complex and 450 square-foot interim visitor information center.
The DSEA also includes the location for the new Forest Service administrative facility proposed for constructed at the Forest Service’s work center located at the corner of Kernville Rd. and Sierra Way. The new 9,785 square-foot facility in Kernville would include an office, warehouse, fire response station and visitor information center.
Once built, employees from the Kern River Ranger District office would move out of the two-story log building located on Whitney Rd.in Kernville into the new facility.
The majority of discussion at Monday night’s meeting centered on the design of the two buildings, and more specifically why solar panels are proposed for the administration facility in Kernville, while wind turbines are proposed for the fire station in Lake Isabella.
As proposed, six vertical-axis wind turbines would be placed at the fire station site in Lake Isabella as a supplemental power source for the fire station. The turbines would consist of six single 30-foot tall poles, each with an overall height of 38 feet.
Corps representative, Roger Henderson stated that the federal government is directed to look at renewable energy resources for their facilities, adding that they felt the best way to meet that directive at the Lake Isabella fire station would be by using wind turbines. He added that the Corps wanted to showcase two types of renewable energy for the two facilities, and the decision to install wind turbines in Lake Isabella was based on the amount of wind Lake Isabella receives.
Meeting attendees raised several issues relating to the wind turbines including aesthetics and noise levels.
“My concern with wind turbines is that it will open the door to bring more wind turbines into the valley,” Steve Spradlin said.
Henderson stated that the newer vertical axis turbines spin at a slower speed and are quieter than the older horizontal turbines that people are familiar with. The vertical-axis turbines are rated at a noise level of less than 50 decibels, which is equivalent to the level of a normal conversation.
Corps representatives said that the decision to use wind turbines at the Lake Isabella fire station was not final. Creg Hucks, Program Manager encouraged residents to submit their written comments about the proposed turbines before the Jan. 4 deadline.
One issue that the DSEA did not address but one that residents wanted to discuss is the permanent location for the visitor center in Lake Isabella. Stalker noted that potential locations for that permanent facility is still ongoing and is expected to be addressed in more detail at a later date.
A location that is being strongly pursued by a group of community leaders from the Kern River Valley Heritage Foundation, members of both Chambers of the Commerce, Kern River Valley Revitalization Committee is the Bob Powers Gateway Preserve located at the intersection of Highways 178 and 155 in Lake Isabella.
According to the DSEA, the use of private land could not be considered as the Corps was not authorized to purchase private lands for the purpose of mitigation impacts or Forest Service administration facilities.
Mike Thomas stated that they are working with the Forest Service and Kern County to resolve the issue that the 18-acre Bob Powers Gateway Preserve property is not federally owned and questioned the need for a separate environmental assessment. Stalker responded by saying that they are not pushing the Bob Powers Gateway Preserve property out of consideration, but that they need to move forward with the timeline of the current DSEA.
As discussion continued about the Bob Powers Gateway Preserve site, Richard Rowe commented that if the Bob Powers site could be developed, it may be more cost effective not to develop the interim site and move directly to a permanent visitor center. Henderson said that while they could not give an exact cost of the small modular building, they estimated that the cost of the modular was around $15,000 to $20,000.
Al Watson, District Ranger with the Forest Service said that because the fire station and interim visitor center is on federal land, they want to move forward with the interim visitor center, adding that when the permanent visitor center is built, the Forest Service could make use of the 450 square-foot modular building.
The draft SEA is available on the project web page at http://bit.ly/IsabellaDam. Written comments can be submitted to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District, 1325 J Street, Room 1513, Sacramento, CA 95814 and must be received by Jan. 4, 2016.
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