A drive on the south Sonoma Coast takes visitors past impossibly beautiful ocean vistas, rocky shorelines and crashing waves, but the coastline could soon include an imposing new feature — a broad concrete bridge spanning Scotty Creek between Bodega Bay and Jenner.
The 850-foot-long bridge is part of a three-quarter-mile realignment project meant to move Highway 1 at Gleason Beach inland by 400 feet — Caltrans’ solution to the crumbling cliffside that undermines the roadway on its current route at the continent’s edge.
But even after years of meetings and draft sketches of how the coastal highway might one day look, many in the region still are coming to terms with the scale of what’s proposed and its impact on the view and surrounding landscape.
Some planned to air their concerns about the project this week during a meeting of the California Coastal Commission at what is the first — and very possibly, the last — public hearing on the project. But Monday, the commission, at the behest of Caltrans, postponed the hearing to allow “more time to address new information and community concerns in order to move the project forward.”
No new hearing date was set.
The California Coastal Commission will still hold three days of meetings this week — Wednesday, Thursday and Friday — in the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chambers. Residents can voice their opinions about the Gleason Beach project during public comment sessions on any of those three days.
“The Sonoma Coast deserves better,” said Richard Charter, a nearby resident of Bodega Bay and longtime coastal steward who serves as senior fellow at The Ocean Foundation. “Once it’s in, it’s just going to be there, and nobody can do anything about it.”
Public officials recognized the plan conflicts with land-use principles embedded in the California Coastal Act and Sonoma County’s own coastal land-use policies, which prioritize the coast’s scenic and visual qualities, among other protected resources.
But Caltrans and Coastal Commission staffers say the proposal is the least environmentally damaging of 20 viable options for the site, where the landscape dips down to the creek at ocean level and crosses actively grazed ranchlands, wetland areas, Native American archaeological sites and a stream historically populated by endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout.
Caltrans hopes to begin construction next spring and finish the project in two years, spokesman Alejandro Lopez said. The agency at one point projected the cost of the roadway work would be $20 million, though no updated estimate was available.
State agencies proposed an extensive list of conditions and measures meant to offset interference with the view and ensure sensitive wildlife habitat and recreational attributes aren’t damaged.
They include a $10 million mitigation package, negotiated with Sonoma County planning officials, that would result in a new 40- to 50-acre park and coastal trail segment, beach access improvements, stream and habitat restoration, and a dedicated bike/pedestrian bridge across Scotty Creek. It also includes cleaning up huge chunks of houses and concrete shed by the eroding cliff over the past two decades, as landowners frantically sought to stave off the inevitable loss of bluff-top homes that began falling into the ocean in 1998.
Though contingent on funding approvals by the California Transportation Commission, the proposed project is “a big win-win-win opportunity to finally clean up this section of the coast,” Sonoma County planner Gary Helfrich said.