Wildlife cameras installed by Coastal Ranches Conservancy got immediate hits for bear, deer, and mountain lions. Caltrans will do a one-year study to find the best place for a wildlife passage beneath Highway 101 in the Gaviota area. | Credit: Courtesy Coastal Ranches Conservancy

Hopes that a 500-foot-long wildlife passage under Highway 101 would be built soon were dashed for Gaviota conservancy groups, whose appeal to the Coastal Commission had resulted in talks with Caltrans for a compromise.

“Caltrans made calls and got permission to do that or agreed to do that” during discussions with commission staff in April, said Doug Campbell. His group, Coastal Ranches Conservancy, had joined with Gaviota Coast Conservancy to argue for a larger culvert at Cañada del Barro, a stream just east of the Gaviota curve, where Caltrans planned to rebuild the old culvert. The conservancies call the confluence of the 101 and Gaviota area a “wildlife kill zone” and regarded Caltrans’ project as an ideal opportunity to build a passage for large animals beneath the highway.

During the discussion, however, Caltrans reps came to realize that increasing the proposed culvert’s width from six feet to eight feet would double the original project cost of $7.5 million. Caltrans funds are extremely competitive, spokesperson Jim Shivers said. “An investment of this magnitude based on an appeal argument is not taken lightly. We [were] forced to withdraw our CDP [coastal development permit] application as we do not have a scientific basis to justify the additional costs to construct an eight-foot diameter culvert.”

A previous appeal to the County Board of Supervisors for the project ended in a win for Caltrans when the agency offered to do a wildlife crossing study in Gaviota in order to determine the best place for a passageway. The one-year study begins in July, Shivers said, a delay compounded by a year spent in appeals.

As for replacing the culvert, which was first described as dangerous and crumbling, Shivers said work crews continued to monitor its condition.

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