Despite some initial pushback from residents near Kerr Park, City Council finally voted 5-0 to approve Phase II of the Salmonid Habitat Restoration Project at Stanley Wakefield Wilderness Area, Monday, July 19.
The project has been a heated topic of conversation on both sides of the argument, but through the efforts of extensive public outreach and mitigation, city staff were able to calm most of the voiced concerns regarding traffic, transients, and trash.
The City entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Oakdale Sportsman Club mitigating many of their strongest concerns, paving the way to a successful partnership going forward.
In accepting the $341,036 in grant funds from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the city is 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.
“Whether this project is approved or not, we still have a fire hazard issue and a transient issue,” City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said. “We have a choice, to not accept hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money that the citizens of Oakdale and Stanislaus County have already paid, and it’s going to go somewhere else, or we can leverage that to do something that we’ve struggled to do on our own.”
Between public hearings, additional Public Works sessions, personally meeting with residents and opening the conversation to anyone with concerns, Whitemyer said, “There’s been a lot of conversation regarding this…lots of public comment,” but the additional legwork paid off.
Many people came to City Council on Monday morning to share their feelings about the project and those who couldn’t attend, sent letters to be read into public comment.
“The town, for the most part, are for this,” said Lacy Thomas, a member of Stanislaus River Watch, the volunteer organization that spends countless hours cleaning the riverbank of trash. Thomas came to the meeting with 150 signatures from the community, expressing support for the project. “Groups like ours will use this area and help keep it clean.”
Thomas added, addressing one of the persistent talking points, “The homeless don’t want to be where you and I are. If you clean up the underbrush of the Stanley Wakefield wildness area you’re less inclined to have transients there, which will help mitigate the transient issue.”
However, some residents, such as Mike Gibson, are still resistant to the idea of any change to the habitat, no matter the positive, saying, “I am against anything that will involve more people.”
Once Phase II is finished, Phase III will consist of restoration of up to 28 acres of channel, floodplain and upland habitats and will need additional federal or state funds to be completed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not able to guarantee that funds will be available for the ultimate construction of the Salmonid Habitat Restoration Project at Stanley Wakefield Wilderness Area at this time.
However, Whitemyer said, it is very likely that additional funds will be available for this project in future fiscal years.