The director of the California Resources Agency issued a formal apology Thursday to Cal Poly officials after a state-paid contractor prematurely began bulldozing land in Stenner Creek Canyon.
The apology from Douglas P. Wheeler to Cal Poly President Warren Baker came just two hours before university officials planned to seek a court order temporarily restraining the De- partment of Water Resources from continuing any further construction on i ts proposed water pipeline, according to Bill Boldt, a Cal Poly spokesman and vice president of university advancement.
"Our university (legal) counsel spent much of the night and this morning preparing to go to court," Boldt said. "We were getting ready to leave to locate a judge when we received Secretary Wheeler's faxed letter."
The canyon is home to several dozen large oak trees, many of which may be 200 to 300 years old.
On Wednesday, without the university's knowledge, construction crews bulldozed a long, 120-foot-wide swath of rangeland, ripping an ugly brown gash into a hillside, halting just a few hundred yards short of a stand of oak trees and a creek tributary.
"I greatly regret the unfortunate, premature site clearing activities that have occurred in association with the Department of Water Resources' coastal branch Pipeline project," wrote Wheeler. "You have my personal assurance that no further actions will occur at the site until all parties are in full agreement as to the conditions of any clearing or (construction)."
Although state water officials had issued a stop-work order late Wednesday, construction crews in the canyon still had not been notified as of early Thursday morning.
Steven Marx, a Cal Poly associate professor of English, was hiking in the canyon early Thursday and observed that the construction crews appeared to be starting work again.
Seeing the operator of a bulldozer start to resume his work, Marx stepped into the machine's path, placing his body between the canyon and the large earthmoving vehicle.
Construction crews at the site initially tried to coax Marx out from the machine's path but failed to convince the English professor to move. Shortly after the brief confrontation, the construction foreman agreed to halt work after finally receiving offi cial word that a stop-work order had been issued. Marx was not injured.
"They clearly were not happy with me being there. We exchanged a few unpleasant words at first," Marx said. "I never felt that I would be hit although I will admit my adrenalin was pumping."
Boldt said that in the wake of Wheeler's letter, Cal Poly officials will temporarily suspend any legal action in the conflict.
Wednesday's start of construction angered Cal Poly officials, who said they were depending on state water officials to honor a pledge to do no further work on the Pipeline project in the canyon until a settlement in the dispute is reached.
Robert Grotheer, a state water manager in charge of design and construction on the pipeline, said Thursday that Wednesday's start of construction was a product of miscommunication between the Estate agency and the contractor, Homer J. Olsen Inc. of Union City.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Terry Gorton, assistant secretary of the California Resources Agency hiked Stenner Creek Canyon with several Cal Poly and other state officials to see for herself the pipeline's proposed route.
Gorton, an assistant to Wheeler in charge of forestry and rural economic development, was in San Luis Obispo to speak before an estimated 400 participants at a four-day oak woodlands symposium.. The conference concludes today.
As she climbed the hills in the canyon Gorton observed the several dozen trees that have been tied with white ribbons around their trunks‹surveyors' symbols indicating the individual trees that would have to be torn out to make way for the pipeline.
"It's our intention to begin new talks with the officials here at Cal Poly in order to work dut a compromise on this project," Gorton said. "It's my hope those discussions will start as soon as possible."
Later Thursday, Boldt confirmed that state water officials will meet today with Cal Poly officials on campus.
Wednesday's construction start came just two weeks after Baker met with state water officials on campus and in Sacramento. Following the meetings, Baker said he was guardedly optimistic that many of the trees and much of canyon's natural habitat would be spared.
Through the conflict Cal Poly officials have argued that the pipeline should be rerouted because Stenner Creek Canyon serves as a natural laboratory for the biological sciences and natural resources management departments.
The section of the pipeline proposed to run through the canyon is a part of a 100-mile-long offshoot of the California Aqueduct running from Kettleman City in Kings County to Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.
Back to News