Merchants bemoan Highway 1 detour
Published: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 6:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 7:30 a.m.
The kitchen and dining areas of Bill La Feber's Ocean Cove Bar & Grill are deadly silent these days, and have been since a storm Dec. 5 closed Highway 1 nearby.
Beyond the usual wintertime drop in business, the restaurant has been hit hard by news of the indefinite closure of the coastal route between Jenner and Fort Ross.
For La Feber and other business owners who rely during the off-season on the casual weekend explorer, the problem is not the detour but rather the misconception that there is no convenient access to the coastal communities in the area.
"It's amazing how dramatic the drop in business has been," La Feber said. "I've had to reduce hours on both waitress and cooking staff."
Tim Aikens, manager of La Feber's adjoining Ocean Cove Lodge, blames the paltry customer traffic on the many "Road Closed" signs put up by Caltrans. He said potential visitors are under the impression that the detour is not worth the trouble.
"If they keep putting out reports that the road is closed, we're going to die on the vine," Aikens said.
Joel Crockett, owner of Four-Eyed Frog Books in Gualala, expressed similar concerns. Crockett said his bookstore gets customers from all over the country, but mostly people from Sacramento and the East Bay who drive up the coast.
December is his busiest month, he said, and he fears that by the time people understand the detour is not so bad, it will be too late.
"I hope they realize that today or tomorrow and not January 15, when the season is behind us and we go into doldrums," he said.
Highway 1 was closed two weeks ago after heavy rains damaged a 500-foot section of the road between Fort Ross and Meyers Grade roads. The rain washed out a sizable portion of the earth that supports the roadway.
Caltrans officials announced on Dec. 14 that the closure would be indefinite and that engineers were in the design stage of crafting a solution. Because of that, Caltrans could not provide a timeline for the repair.
For those driving north along the coast, the detour starts at Meyers Grade Road, just north of Jenner, continues along Seaview Road to Timber Cove Road and returns to Highway 1. The nearly 11-mile route, which takes 21 to 25 minutes to drive, lacks an ocean view but is replete with rolling hills, cattle pastures and evergreen groves.
Some locals prefer the route. They say there are fewer cars and it isn't peppered with precipitous, rocky falls.
The detour is a major blow to Tony and Jason Romeo, the owners of Fort Ross Lodge and its adjacent convenience store and gas station, which are located between the two detour points. The detour bypasses their businesses.
And it's not the first time they've been hit by the effects of road closures."We're going to do what we've always done -- weather the storm," said Jason Romeo.
Tony Romeo said he would like to see a temporary solution that would allow one lane of Highway 1 to remain open while repairs are made. Business from casual drivers heading up and down the coast has vanished, even though the store and gas station are only about one minute south of the Timber Cove Road detour point.
"We lose all the business that would normally drive by us."
While some say the detour adds only about five or six extra minutes, and has its own scenic charm, others are concerned about safety issues along the route.
Scott Foster, district administrator for Coast Life Support District, said the detour has increased transport times to local hospitals, which already average about two hours. He said he's particularly concerned about Meyers Grade Road.
"Try driving it at night in the fog. It's a narrow, uneven-surface road with no fog or center lines," he said.
Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose district includes the area, said Tuesday that he's asked Caltrans to provide a "status report" on the repairs that would include a timeline.
"My concerns are twofold: one for safety and the state of road maintenance," Carrillo said. "But I'm also concerned about the impact on business."
Caltrans officials could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Business owners said that more detailed information about the detour should be posted, including the added driving time.
La Feber and Aikens, of Ocean Cove Lodge and Bar & Grill, said that such information, posted as far south as Jenner, would counter the negative effects of road-closure signs.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or email@example.com.
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