Cachagua Road follows a narrow, curvy slope through the forested folds of deep Carmel Valley, opening at the summit to panoramic views of the valley and Los Padres National Forest. Now, Cachagua residents are raising concerns about the prospect of construction traffic rumbling through their neighborhood over the next four years.
California American Water is poised to take down the 106-foot San Clemente Dam and reroute the Carmel River around the accumulated sediment, a move meant to reduce seismic risk and help restore the Carmel River’s natural flow. It also proposes to remove the Old Carmel River Dam, a smaller and now obsolete structure just downstream of the San Clemente.
The $83 million project will require years of steady construction machinery along the access routes. In permit applications now before the county Planning Commission, Cal Am proposes to bring dump trucks and workers up the northern end of Cachagua Road, off Carmel Valley Road, and route heavier machinery to the southern end of Cachagua via Tassajara Road. Cal Am would widen five curves and improve a one-lane bridge in preparation.
Tony Scardina of the Cachagua Property Owners Association says most residents approve of the dam removal project, but are concerned about how construction traffic will impact Cachagua Road – particularly emergency vehicle access. He also feels there hasn’t been enough outreach. “Nobody in Cachagua was informed about this through any kind of mailing,” he says. “People are just starting to find out.”
Cal Am and county staff met with nine Cachagua Road neighbors Aug. 30 to discuss their concerns. The county then drafted a condition requiring Cal Am to restrict road closures to 9am-3pm on weekdays, use pilot cars and add signage, among other measures.
“[Cal Am] has agreed to continue meeting monthly with residents throughout the project to address traffic concerns,” company spokeswoman Catherine Bowie writes by email.
To widen sharp turns, Cal Am plans to take about 0.44 acres from property owners, using eminent domain if necessary. Cal Am will pay for the land, Bowie says, but the county will own it.
Landowner Richard Crane has been approached by appraisers looking to value almost 9,000 square feet of his Sky Ranch property at a hairpin turn on Cachagua Road. He says he’s willing to sell the property for the right price, “but I’m not happy about them coming this way with all the trucking.”
Cal Am considered an alternative path to the construction site through the affluent Sleepy Hollow subdivision, which houses about 23 families. But consultants found that route, though shorter, would be more vulnerable to landslides and flooding, require two new bridges, disturb more habitat and cost more than the Cachagua route.
“We think Cal Am is willing to do what it can to avoid adverse impacts to our neighborhood,” says Steve Woolpert, president of the Sleepy Hollow Homeowners Association. “Cal Am and Sleepy Hollow have been neighbors forever.”
On Sept. 12, past the Weekly’s deadline, the county Planning Commission considered a permit to remove the two dams, cut 1,318 trees, develop on steep slopes and improve the construction route. Staff recommended postponing the decision while Cal Am hammers out access agreements with the parks department and Sleepy Hollow homeowners, according to Senior Planner Bob Schubert. The commission’s decision can be appealed to the County Board of Supervisors.