COARSEGOLD – Residents of this little village along Highway 41 have been trying for years to get something done about the eyesore and potentially dangerous “Great Wall of Coarsegold,” as it has become known.
Throughout the various stages of its disintegration, residents and travelers along the highway have been greeted with the sight of bulging terraces, crumbling stone, and the latest – a big white tarp and a chain link fence. The tarp is to help keep rainwater from saturating the soil behind the wall, and the fence keeps chunks of the wall from rolling out into the roadway.
As the wall has deteriorated, so has the situation between all the interested parties, including long-suffering residents. Now there seems to be some movement toward solving this problem, though some would say they’ve heard that before.
At a town hall meeting in Coarsegold on Thursday, Oct. 25, District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler told the crowd of some 60 residents that the county is working with the trustee and with Michael and Cynthia Graham, who hold a lien on the property. Terry and Theresa Travis, the owners who started building the wall in 2003, have filed for bankruptcy.
“The Travises are completely out of the picture now,” said Wheeler. “And the Grahams want to get this thing done now, and done right.”
Robert Gabriele, assistant county counsel for Madera County, said he was contacted by the attorney for the Graham family, stating that they were not satisfied that any of the alternatives proposed were going to resolve the problem fast enough to avoid a catastrophic event.
They have therefore committed to fund the restoration of the property now, rather than waiting for litigation to run its course, and perhaps have the wall tumble into Highway 41 in the interim.
“We’re fortunate it hasn’t happened to date,” said Gabriele. “We’re also fortunate that as we speak today, it’s not an emergency situation, but it is a worsening situation.”
Gabriele assured everyone that, “It’s no longer talk, it’s action. There’s going to be a lot of activity, hopefully very soon. The county has committed to expedite and prioritize this, and go forward as fast as possible. The Grahams and trustee Richard Kipperman are working toward an agreement that will allow a contractor to proceed with this project.”
Noel Shipp, general manager of Jay’s Construction of Lemoore, explained that his company has been called in to assess the situation and determine what can be done.
“We’ve only known about this project for five days,” said Shipp. “In those five days, we’ve met with the county, Cal Trans, and five structural engineers. It’s a complicated situation. There are insurance companies involved, previous owners, the trustee, the creditors… but the county wants to expedite this and get this wall fixed.”
Shipp said he could not, at this point, say what the process would be in repairing the wall.
“There are a lot of different entities involved,” said Shipp. “In addition to the construction itself, you have to have a plan to keep silt out of the creek, you have to have a sweeping plan. There will be road closures, so you have to have a traffic control plan. There are soils engineers, Fish and Game, Cal Trans. It’s complicated, but everyone I’ve talked to understands the severity of the problem.”
Shipp says it will take time to assess the project, but that his company is definitely up to the task.
“There are also two neighbors that adjoin that property, and they will be critical in the way the process goes,” said Shipp. “The safety of the neighbors, the property, and the road is what everyone is concerned with, it’s what the County is concerned with. The Grahams are committed to whatever it takes to do it, and do it right.”
For those at the town hall meeting who questioned why the County has not done anything to resolve this issue before now, Gabriele wants them to understand the realities of the situation.
“These are all private people.” said Gabriele. “This is private property. The only way the county gets involved is to look at what they’ve proposed, and make sure it meets state and local standards. It is not the job of the county to propose anything. We have to rely on licensed and certified contractors and engineers to know what will work and what won’t.”
At this point, it is up to the trustee and the Grahams to come to an agreement that allows the contractor to move forward with the project.
“They are still looking at the plan that was prepared earlier this year to see if it will work, or whether there are things that need to be modified,” says Gabriele. “Any contractor needs to provide a full plan, line up all the workers, determine what permits have to be pulled to legalize anything he proposes to do. The Grahams have authorized the contractor to do that preliminary work, but he cannot move dirt or do anything with the wall until it is OK’d by the trustee.”
Hopes are high that all parties will come to an agreement and move forward before the rains come, and this situation can finally be resolved.