Retrofit complete

Bass Lake dam project completed

Brian WilkinsonApril 17, 2013 

A ceremonial ribbon cutting was held on Bass Lake's Crane Valley dam Monday afternoon to signify the completion of Pacific Gas & Electric Company's $130 million seismic retrofit project.

The massive construction project, originally estimated at $60 million, was undertaken to bring the dam up to current earthquake seismic standards.

The more than double price tag for the dam upgrade was attributed to the increase in granite used to stabilize the dam from 200,000 to 300,000 cubic feet. The on-site eight-acre rock quarry developed a half mile downstream from the dam, was unable to produce enough rock required, thus having thousands of truck loads of granite brought to the site from Raymond. Weather and other issues caused necessary adjustments to the construction schedule, adding to the cost overrun said Janet Walther, PG&E project manager.

The retrofit of the 1,880-foot-long, 145-foot-tall dam was first announced in April 2009. It was in 2002 that the State Department of Water Resources Division of Safety of Dams notified PG&E that the dam, first build in 1902, needed modifications because it no longer met seismic requirements.

The complexity of the project, with about 14 state and federal regulatory agencies involved, was spelled out in a 650-page Environmental Impact Report written with input from 50 consultants. More than 50 pages in the report listed 125 possible impacts concerning the project and although the majority of issues listed were considered to have either no impact or less than significant impact, 11 of the impacts were considered "significant and unavoidable," including visual changes, on site noise, air quality and construction traffic.

When the project was first announced, many Bass Lake residents and businesses were concerned a 10-foot lower lake level, necessary during construction, would adversely affect some boat slips and Bass Lake's tourism economy.

Although there were some homeowners who lost the use of their boat slips the past four seasons, the current economy was far more detrimental to the Bass Lake economy than the retrofit project.

Leslie Cox, president of the Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce, credited PG&E for working hard to protect the lake's recreation season by not working on weekends, keeping roads open as much as possible and keeping rock quarry blasting to a minimum during the summer season.

"Although we received many calls asking if the lake was open, the project did not adversely affect the lake's tourism industry as much as we first thought," Cox said. "The project is now complete and the lake level will be higher than it has been in the past four years. The lake may not completely fill this season but that's because this season's snowpack is at 50% of normal."

Randy Livingston, VP of power generation for PG&E, welcomed more the 60 people to the ribbon cutting including representatives of the Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce, Bass Lake Homeowners Association, Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, U.S Forest Service, Kiwit Pacific Construction and Parsons Construction.

Wallace Lam, an engineer with the state Department of Water Resources Division of Safety of Dams, said PG&E's design and construction team did a great job coordinating the many permitting and regulatory agencies involved in the project.

"PG&E also held many public meetings to explained the project to residents of the area," said Lam, who's department oversees 1,250 dams in California.

"The public was understanding of the occasional inconvenience of noise and truck traffic during the project," Lam said.

Dave Martin, district ranger for the Bass Lake Ranger District, said it was incredibly gratifying to see so many people and agencies work together for a common cause.

"We worked closely with PG&E to do this project with as little impact to the public as possible," said Martin.

After receiving "a million" phone calls from concerned residents when the project was fist announced, Wheeler told the gathering he was glad to see the project completed.

"It was important for the residents and the businesses of the area to get the right information and all the agencies involved worked well together early on to work on the needed permits and the details of the project during weekly meetings," Wheeler said.

About 2,300 trees were removed on Forest Service property to develop the rock and a site restoration plan was established by PG&E in cooperation with the Forest Service and many experts including hydrologist and botanists.

PG&E's Matt Brown said 15,000 Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, Incense Cedar, Live Oak and Black Oak trees have been planted on about 40 acres on the downstream side of the dam and at the restored quarry site. In addition, 15,000 perennial plants and two native types of grass have been planted in the area.

According to Brown, the majority of the trees were grown at a Forest Service nursery in Placerville with additional trees grown at Intermountain Nursery in Prather from seeds that were harvested from the site in 2008. The restoration planting began in December and was completed at the end of March.

Craig Geldard, PG&E environmental manager, said about 8,000 catchable rainbow trout (1/2 pound average) have been planted in the lake and an additional 26,000 will be planted over the next year including some two pound "trophy" trout.

General contractor for the project was Kiewit Pacific Construction and Parsons Construction served as the project manager for PG&E, overseeing permitting compliance, quality control and safety.

During the ceremonies, Livingston presented Cox with a $35,000 ceremonial check, funds that have been used to purchase television and radio spots promoting Bass Lake. The 30-second spot, produced by the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau, started airing on Fresno's four network stations Monday. Cox said the theme of the commercial is "Bass Lake is Full of It -- Fish, Water and Family Fun."

After the ceremonies, attendees were invited to walk across the dam, which is now open to walkers, joggers and bicyclists.

PG&E is holding a public meeting about being downstream hydroelectric dams from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. April 22 at North Fork Town Hall, 33060 Road 228.

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