County officials, stung by criticism over their plans to replace a historic steel truss bridge near Sonoma, are now proposing to keep the bridge and build a new one downstream.
But the revised plans for Watmaugh Road Bridge aren't receiving a better reception. The plans would require the county to acquire private property adjacent to Sonoma Creek in order to redirect the road leading to the new span.
"I'm stunned that this is the solution, and I would put the word solution in quotes," said Nancy Simpson, Sonoma Valley's designate to the county Landmarks Commission.
The Watmaugh bridge was constructed in 1929 to span the creek and connect what is today Arnold Drive and Highway 12 leading into Sonoma. The bridge is one of two steel truss bridges in Sonoma Valley and in 1981 was designated as a county historic landmark after preservationists saved it from being torn down.
County officials say the bridge is at risk of collapse during an earthquake or major flood because of erosion around the piers that support it. But preservationists contend that officials are inflating the risks and that the span can be brought to safety standards without having to replace it.
Passions already were inflamed over the bridge's fate prior to the county announcing the revised plans in an e-mail circulated this week to preservationists and Sonoma city councilmembers.
Sonoma Valley Supervisor Valerie Brown and Simpson, whom Brown appointed to the Landmarks Commission, are at odds over the issue, with Brown favoring the county's original plan that called for replacing the bridge while preserving the trusses.
Simpson advocates for the bridge to be retro-fitted.
"I recognize what Ms. Simpson wants and I can't seem to, with every fact, move her off of that. The reality is we cannot do what she wants us to do," Brown said.
<NO1><NO>But Brown shares Simpson's concerns about building an entirely new bridge, particularly the impact that would have on property owners whose land would have to be acquired in order to redirect Watmaugh Road.
"I'm just a little bit sorry that we are having to look at putting in a new bridge next to an existing bridge that we could make usable," Brown said Friday.
County transit planners said it would cost as much to retrofit the bridge as it would to replace it, and that the funds that are available to do the work are tied specifically to building a new span.
Tom O'Kane, the county deputy director of public works, said building a new bridge would not increase the cost to replace it, as he said the money would be saved by not have to demolish the existing span. Officials have pegged the cost of replacing the bridge at between $2 million and $3 million.
O'Kane said the vocal opposition and "saber-rattling about lawsuits" prompted officials to devise what he considers a compromise plan for the bridge.
But Simpson accused county officials of trying to "make a museum" out of the bridge.
The Landmarks Commission has the authority to review changes to the bridge under a 1998 Board of Supervisors resolution that designated Watmaugh and 11 other bridges part of a county-wide historic bridges district.
The county's plans to build a new Watmaugh bridge would appear to circumvent that process. But O'Kane denied any deliberate attempt to get around the commission, even as he again accused preservationists of "grasping at straws" and putting out "disinformation."
Largest North Coast Wildfires
2017-Tubbs fire- approximately 36,432 acres in Sonoma and Napa Counties. 92% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Nuns Fire- approximately 54 thousand acres- 34,398 in Sonoma County and 20,025 in Napa county. 80% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Atlas Fire- approximately 51,624 acres in Napa and Sonoma Counties. 85% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Redwood Fire- approximately 36,523 acres in Mendocino County. 85% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Pocket Fire-approximately 14,225 acres in Sonoma County. 63% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Sulphur Fire-approximately 2,207 acres in Lake County. 96% contained as of Oct. 19.
(TOTAL North Bay fires as of Oct. 18.- 195,434 acres)
2015- Valley Fire burnt 76,067 acres in Lake County. A total of 1,955 structures were destroyed.
2012- North Pass Fire- approximately 41,983 acres in Mendocino County.
2004- Rumsey fire- 39,138 acres in Napa and Yolo counties.
1996- Fork fire, the largest fire on record, burned through approximately 83,057 acres in Lake County. Much of the devastation was focused in the Mendocino National Forest.
1981- Atlas Peak Fire- approximately 23 thousand acres in Napa County.
1981- Cow Mountain Fire- approximately 25,534 acres in Lake and Mendocino counties.
1964- Hanly Fire- approximately 52,700 acres in Sonoma and Napa Counties. 84 homes, 24 summer cabins and countless farm buildings destroyed including the historic Tubbs Mansion.
1964- Nunns Canyon- approximately 7,000 acres in Sonoma County.
-Source: CAL Fire