Under Contract

Levee parkway upgrades rumble forward

By R.E. Graswich
March 2022

For years, people in Pocket, Little Pocket and Land Park asked me when the Big Fix—the massive repair job on the Sacramento River levees—would start. Now many of us can’t wait for the work to hurry up and finish.

Sorry, but it’s going to be awhile. This year will see major progress when Army Corps of Engineers contractors move forward with something called “Contract 3” levee repairs.

Levee upgrades under “Contract 3” will cost $40.9 million and ensnare much of Pocket and Greenhaven. Residents are getting accustomed to significant disruptions. Zacharias Park is closed for another year. Parts of Garcia Bend Park are fenced off again.

The heavy labor takes place between Surfside Way and Country River Way, where cutoff walls are being carved into the levee to prevent seepage and collapse. This means people who enjoy watching heavy equipment and haul trucks will be thrilled, especially along Pocket Road.

On the other hand, those of us who pray for the day when cyclists, joggers and pedestrians can trek from Miller Park to Freeport on a first-class asphalt bike path must continue to wait. Our dream was promised by the city in 1975. Our patience will be rewarded one day, maybe in this lifetime.

Last fall, the state flood board, which owns and controls the levees, published a 196-page report explaining exactly what “Contract 3” means. It took awhile, but I read every page.

People who work in bureaucracies will understand when I say the “Contract 3” report is a classic government document that delivers important news in the most boring way possible.

The report strives for slumber but rewards readers who can stay awake. I’m sure the document cost thousands of dollars to produce and hits every legal benchmark, even when it falls short of conflict and tension. There’s no love triangle in “Contract 3.” But there’s plenty of information.

On the bright side, no animals are harmed in the making of these levee upgrades. The report stipulates that while some valley elderberry longhorn beetles, burrowing owls and Swainson’s hawks might be forced to look elsewhere for lunch, contractors will deploy “impact avoidance minimization measures” to reduce disruptions.

A few fish—salmon, sturgeon, steelhead and smelt—may be confused when underwater sump pipes are replaced. Crews will be careful. Rest assured whatever happens with those sump pipes will be better for fish than running a gauntlet of riverbank anglers.

Finally, the report worries about bats. It devotes nearly six pages to bat safety. The trouble with bats is they roost in trees. They love cavities found in valley oaks, some of which are doomed to the chainsaw. Levee repairs require about 750 trees to disappear between Miller Park and South Pocket, mainly valley oaks.

Leaving no bat cavity unexplored, the government identifies certain trees as “special-status bat maternity roosting habitat.” A “biological monitor” will be hired to protect bats. “The biological monitor would be empowered to stop activities that, in their opinion, would cause unanticipated adverse effects on special-status bats,” the report says without laughing.

Neighbors in Pocket, Little Pocket and Land Park have survived three years of levee upgrades (creatively, the government called those efforts “Contracts 1 and 2”). Coming next year is “Contract 4.” Then we can call it done.

Meantime, the city makes slow but steady headway with the Pocket levee bike trail. Consultants have been hired for engineering and environmental matters, which means more reports to read. The Pocket levee top will be paved when repairs are finished.

It’s not clear when the city will pave the Little Pocket levee top. Former City Council member Steve Hansen spent eight years blocking river parkway progress in Little Pocket. That bad attitude cost Hansen his job in 2020.

His replacement, Katie Valenzuela, was elected largely thanks to her promise to finish the levee parkway and bike trail. Today Little Pocket, Pocket and Land Park fall under Rick Jennings, the parkway’s supreme advocate on City Council.

The wheels of government turn slowly, but our progress is relentless. Just ask the bats.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at regraswich@icloud.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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