A few phone calls by Supervisor Gregg Hart to Caltrans have rescued the highway agency’s project to replace a large culvert under the 101 just east of the Gaviota Pass. The work had been successfully appealed by two Gaviota groups earlier, on September 1. They convinced the supervisors that the culvert should be larger, big enough for deer and bear to pass through because so many wild animals were being killed on that stretch of the highway. They also asked that a trail proposed in the Gaviota community plan be provided. Only Supervisor Hart disagreed with the appellants that day, but on Tuesday morning, the rest of the four supervisors changed their minds after Caltrans agreed to fund a wildlife corridor study.
The culvert that drains the creek at Cañada del Barro is nearly full of dirt and its concrete is falling apart. Replacing it costs $7.5 million and involves boring a 450-foot-long, six-foot-diameter culvert about 100 feet below Highway 101. The supervisors asked Caltrans to meet with the appellants to resolve the wildlife issue, but Doug Kern with the Gaviota Coast Conservancy said on Tuesday that Caltrans never replied to multiple phone calls and emails. His group contended that the five acres Caltrans would buy from Gaviota State Park for the culvert rebuild is restricted by its deed for open recreational use. It’s part of a proposed trails network that is absent from Caltrans’s plans.
The second appellant is the Coastal Ranches Conservancy, and their executive director Doug Campbell said not only was a wildlife passageway needed, but higher fencing would keep deer from leaping onto the highway and injuring themselves and motorists. The area is a wildlife hotspot where deer, mountain lions, and other animals have been hit by vehicles and killed. Even more are massacred near the Gaviota Pass to the north. Campbell said it would be a missed opportunity not to make this culvert a wildlife underpass because Caltrans had yet to build one at any of the 14 culverts between Gaviota and Goleta.
Supervisor Joan Hartmann expressed disappointment that Caltrans had not contacted the appellants on the wildlife issue as requested, but Hart’s phone calls had prodded action out of the agency. Hart worked with Caltrans frequently while he was with the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, a 20-year career he resigned from to become a county supervisor. Though Caltrans representative Mitch Dallas argued that the Cañada del Barro site was too steep and too little used by animals to be a passageway, he stated that Caltrans recognized the roadkill problem and had found funding for a wildlife corridor study. He underlined that the study would be a collaboration with the county and with natural resources agencies.
Attorney Ana Citrin for appellant Gaviota Coast Conservancy observed that the wildlife study would be valuable in providing information on where a wildlife crossing would be beneficial. She just hoped Caltrans would follow through and build one.
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