Beginning next week, an empty lot on Highway 41 adjacent to 47th Place Carpet One in Oakhurst will be used to ‘chip’ more than 10,000 dead trees being cut down along Highways 41 and 49.
It’s part of an extensive $5 million, five-month tree removal project headed by Caltrans.
In order to help keep the public safe, large sections of highways 41 and 49 are slated for hazardous tree removal, Caltrans spokesman Cory Burkarth said.
“This is a very important project in terms of safety,” Burkarth said. “We’ve seen a lot of wildfires across the state this year, and I think that has highlighted the need to do something with all of these dead trees ... so this is a preventive step to not only protect passing motorists and keeping the roadway safe, but also to protect area homes, businesses, and residents.”
Along Highway 41, trees will be removed beginning shortly north of Morava Road in Coarsegold, Burkarth said, all the way up to 4.9 miles past the Madera/Mariposa county line south of Fish Camp - a total distance of more than 26 miles.
On Highway 49, trees will be removed beginning at its intersection with Highway 41 in Oakhurst, up to the Madera/Mariposa county line near Nipinnawasee.
Drivers should expect delays of up to 15 minutes whenever a fallen tree needs to be removed from the road, but those delays will be rare, Burkarth said. Work will be performed from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, weather permitting.
“It’s our practice to advise the public that delays may last up to 15 minutes,” Burkarth said. “While we may not necessarily expect delays to last that long, we advise the public to plan for (one).”
The project is estimated to last for 150 working days when chipping begins next week, Burkarth said. Somewhere between 15-25 workers will be on the project including traffic control, tree falling, and chipping and log operations, he added, with up to 15,000 trees possibly cut down, based on initial estimates.
All the chipped material will be hauled to a biomass plant in either Rio Bravo or Chinese Camp, Burkarth said, then used to generate power provided to Pacific Gas and Electric Company. The material is purchased anywhere from $3-$5 a ton, and each truck averages a haul of about 12-18 tons.
The $5 million tree removal contract is with Teichert Construction and subcontractor Sierra Mountain Construction Company. Teichert also headed the 1.7-mile long passing lanes on Highway 41 near Road 208, which were completed Sept. 19.
The project follows Gov. Jerry Brown’s emergency proclamation on tree mortality last October, with $46 million, and growing, allocated by Caltrans to tree removal in a 10-county area thus far. More than 66 million trees are expected dead or dying in California due to a combination of drought conditions and bark beetle infestations.