Road Closed

A good reason to block levee access

By R.E. Graswich
October 2020

One recent sunny day, I was wandering around Garcia Bend Park and met a family eager to spend some time along the river. They hoped to access the levee at Garcia Bend, but quickly realized that was impossible. The levee was fenced off. No admission. It’s a staging area for the Big Dig levee-repair project.

“Is there a way we can get to the levee?” the mom asked. Great question. Normally, I would have shown them a pathway. But this time I directed the family over to Zacharias Park, which was still open.

Levee repairs have frustrated some residents who don’t quite grasp what is happening and why. Several people have emailed me complaining about their inability to enjoy the levee during a lovely late summer day.

I tell them to be patient. The construction work may save their lives when rains come hard and the snowpack melts and the rivers fill and test the levees. It’s happened before.

Here’s the good news for Pocket residents who have enjoyed the levee construction work around Garcia Bend. There’s plenty more to come. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will issue three more contracts for levee repairs. Work will continue through 2024.

The repairs are essential for the safety of Pocket, Greenhaven, Little Pocket and any other Sacramento neighborhood not built on a hill. That means just about everywhere.

The project is massive. Crews are installing cutoff walls in the levee. This requires workers to shave anywhere from 3 to 10 feet off the levee top, then dig trenches more than 2-feet wide and very deep—some 85 feet down, some 130 feet. The trenches are filled with various materials, including clay and cement. The new walls prevent Sacramento River water from seeping through and wrecking the levees. It’s a life-saving project.

It’s also a mess. Lots of trucks and heavy equipment. Mountains of dirt hauled away. Garcia Bend has been largely fenced off at the levee. Many river access points are or will be barricaded with temporary construction fences.

The Army Corps spent the summer preparing for the second of four phases, called Contract 2. Impressive in scope, it starts with two cutoff walls Downtown, between Miller Park and R Street. Next comes a cutoff wall in Little Pocket south of Chicory Bend. Finally, there’s major work at the northern end of Greenhaven, from Oak Hall Bend on Riverside Boulevard down to Clay Bank Bend near Genevieve Didion School. Crews will stage at various locations, including Zacharias Park.

To get an idea of the size of Contract 2, consider the equipment: five bulldozers, 20 highway dump trucks and four cranes. The Army Corps estimates 10,000 truck haul trips.

On a less critical but nonetheless important note, the Big Dig project is a catalyst for levee access. Nine private fences that for decades blocked public levee access in Pocket, Greenhaven and Little Pocket are being torn down for construction. The gates and fences—symbols of backroom deals, arrogance and exclusivity for decades—will not be replaced.

All the fences are illegal, but the state has been waiting for the Big Dig to remove them. Once the levee work is finished, the city will pave the top and create a bike path for cyclists, joggers and families like the one I encountered at Garcia Bend. The city is already putting aside money for the river parkway, thanks to efforts by City Councilmember Rick Jennings.

Plans for the Big Dig are older than you might think. They began in 1986 when floods severely tested the levee system that protects Sacramento. When the work is finished in 2024, Pocket, Greenhaven and Little Pocket should book Zacharias Park for a big wrap party.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram:

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