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Sonoma County Board of Supervisors OK oversight of Sonoma bridge replacement

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday took charge of a proposal to replace a historic steel-truss bridge near Sonoma, despite objections that the move is intended to fast-track the project without adequate public input.

The project involves Watmaugh Bridge, built in 1929 to span Sonoma Creek and connect what is today Arnold Drive with Highway 12 leading into Sonoma.

County officials want to replace the bridge with a new one, saying the span is at risk of collapse during an earthquake or major flood because of erosion around the piers that support it.

Preservationists contend the risks have been inflated and are seeking to have the bridge rehabilitated.

On Tuesday, supervisors unanimously supported invoking a protocol known as "original jurisdiction" that gives them direct authority over environmental review of the bridge project, thus circumventing the county planning commission.

Supervisors did not comment on the action, which was part of their consent calendar.

Tom O'Kane, the county's deputy director of public works, said his office requested the oversight change to speed up the process, and not because he feared planners might kill the project.

He said the public has had ample time to weigh in on the details. "My Lord, we've had 2? years of public input," he said.

But Nancy Simpson, Sonoma Valley's designee to the county Landmarks Commission, told supervisors Tuesday that the public has been promised "that there will be many steps to this process."

Sonoma resident Gail Johnson read a letter from former city Planning Commissioner Patricia Daffurn, who called the board's move "appalling" and wrote that it "prevents an objective and thorough review" of the project by an outside body.

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