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St. Helena on track to remove dam by end of 2020

St. Helena on track to remove dam by end of 2020

City of St. Helena logo

City of St. Helena

St. Helena is on track to remove the Upper York Creek Dam by the end of 2020, restoring habitat for protected steelhead and fulfilling a longstanding legal mandate.

The actual cost won’t be clear until construction bids come in, city officials told the council on Jan. 14. A preliminary budget puts the total cost of the project at $8 million, up from a previous estimate of $6.5 million.

With $2.6 million already spent to date, the council approved a new $1.2 million contract with EKI Environment & Water, Inc. for design, project management, permitting services and construction management.

The city had previously paid $300,000 to EKI, which has been managing the project since last July. The firm took over management of the project last year from the city’s previous consultant, Michael Baker International.

The goal of the project is to remove a barrier to fish passage and restore the creek’s ecological balance. Workers will construct artificial log structures downstream to act as sediment traps and provide habitat for endangered steelhead.

The city is scheduled to award a contract this spring, with construction occurring between June and November. The environmental effects of the project will be monitored for 10 years.

Tom Belt, a St. Helena resident and former Fish and Wildlife official who has studied the project extensively, said he was troubled that cost estimates have escalated – especially since city officials had expected the cost to go down due to last year’s design changes.

“As a resident and one of St. Helena’s water customers, this makes me feel insecure about what the final cost will end up being,” Belt said.

Belt also questioned the city’s accounting of the total cost spent on the project during its 26-year history. Belt said the city had actually spent more than $5 million before approving the EKI contract, based on public records the city has provided him.

Vice Mayor Paul Dohring shared Belt’s concern about the cost.

“The premise was that this new way of handling this was going to reduce the cost,” he said. “I’m not seeing a reduction in cost. I’m seeing a substantial escalation in cost.”

Mayor Geoff Ellsworth said he was concerned about the cost too, “but we appear to be on a trajectory to accomplish this after many years.”

Public Works Director Erica Ahmann Smithies stressed that the actual cost won’t be known until contractors submit construction bids.

The project consists of removing the earthen dam and trucking dam material and fine sediment to Clover Flat landfill and possibly a nearby vineyard. Approximately 14,000 cubic yards of material will be removed, with 40-50 truck trips per day for three months.

The city was first ordered to remove the dam in 1993. That order was rescinded in 2001, but ever since November 2012 the city has been paying a $70/day fine for blocking fish passage.

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or

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