Community members showed up in droves Monday night, at the regularly scheduled Oakdale City Council meeting, necessitating a different venue from City Hall to the Bianchi Community Center to accommodate COVID-19 safety protocols.
Discussion regarding the Stanislaus River Salmonid Habitat Restoration Project drew a vocal crowd as community members voiced their support and opposition for the project at the May 3 session.
In April, members of the City Council approved moving forward with Phase II of the project, which is primarily funded through grant money awarded by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
In accepting the $341,036 in grant funds, the city was prepared to fund the efforts to provide baseline data and analysis for 100 percent design plans that would ultimately lead to the enhancement and restoration of up to 28 acres of channel, floodplain and upland habitats.
The perimeters of the project include:
Restoration, rehabilitation, and enhancement of productive Stanislaus River salmonid habitat;
Construction will create a river side channel that will increase salmonid rearing and wetland habitat;
Construction process will include garbage and trash removal; non-native vegetation removal and improved access for police and fire services.
But following a public outreach meeting on April 15, the city received feedback from several homeowners in that area, expressing their displeasure at the proposed changes.
Some of the concerns raised were:
Littering, vagrants, property values, and lack of police presence to deter crime;
Loss of wild habitat for wildlife;
Too much foot traffic on the walking trails;
Additional traffic on Stearns Road;
Inadequate parking at Kerr Park to accommodate more people;
On the flipside, many residents expressed support for the project stating, “Habitat restoration is even more important now than ever,” citing climate change, declining salmon populations, predators and invasive species.
Another resident wrote, “We have lost a lot of river access for enjoyment but at the same time we are behind in protections of the salmon and their habitat. This project will increase habitat for salmon as well as clean up the banks, the access to the river for everyone’s enjoyment.”
Other pros for the project included better health for the Stanislaus River, which in turn, would benefit Oakdale residents in a myriad of ways from education to potential tourist destinations.
City Manager Bryan Whitemyer pointed out that even if the city doesn’t accept the grant funding, the issues currently plaguing the river, including mitigating the transient issue and the trash left behind, as well as the ongoing fire hazards are still going to be there, necessitating some kind of action.
As previously stated in last month’s presentation, by accepting the grant funds, the city will be able to reap additional benefits including:
A more natural and restored ecosystem for the residence of Oakdale;
Compatible with the Stanislaus River Corridor Access Plan as part of the 2030 general plan;
Ability to leverage outside funding;
Creation of 10 acres of seasonal rearing habitat for juvenile Chinook salmon and steelhead;
Enhance wetland with ancillary benefits to native flora and fauna including western pond turtles and egrets;
Invasive vegetation removal of Himalayan blackberry and giant reed;
Increased inundation frequency will also promote natural recruitment of native vegetation such as cottonwoods.
After hearing public comment, City Council members decided it needed further discussion, and referred the issue to the June 2 Planning Commission meeting. The commission members will hear the information and return a recommendation to City Council.