When the Ferguson Rockslide buried a portion of Highway 140 some 6 years ago, the economic impact on Mariposa and the surrounding communities was devastating. Governor Jerry Brown has now signed Assembly Bill 1973, sponsored by Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, to allow the “incidental take of the limestone salamander.”
The limestone salamander is a fully protected species under California law, and all of the proposed fixes for the slide area of SR 140 would have an impact on the salamander. With the signing of AB 1973, Cal Trans will be able to move forward with plans to restore full, unimpeded access to Yosemite National Park through Highway 140.
California has four fully protected species statutes that prohibit the take of fully protected animals, including the rare limestone salamander. This species is found only in the Merced River canyon near Briceburg and along Bear Creek, a tributary of the Merced River. It is not known to exist anywhere else in the world.
The Department of Fish and Game has established an Ecological Reserve in Mariposa County that comprises 120 acres of limestone salamander habitat, and is prohibited from granting an “incidental take” permit for a fully protected species. With the signing of AB 1973, plans can more forward toward finally re-establishing this very important route to and from Yosemite, and putting a lasting fix in place.
The wording of the bill is as follows: “The Department of Fish and Game may authorize the take of listed species if the take is incidental to an otherwise lawful activity and the impacts are minimized and fully mitigated. This bill would authorize the department to authorize under CESA the incidental take of limestone salamander (Hydromantes brunus) resulting from impacts attributable to the Department of Transportation’s implementation of the Ferguson Slide Permanent Restoration Project, contingent upon the fulfillment of prescribed conditions.”
Olsen praised the governor for recognizing the importance of this issue, and emphasized how essential the reconstruction of SR 140 is to the health and stability of Mariposa County’s economy. The California Department of Transportation has outlined the options for the project:
Project Purpose: The purpose of the project is to reopen and restore full access to the section of State Route 140, which was damaged by the Ferguson rockslide. Currently, motorists use a temporary bypass route to travel this portion of State Route 140. Restoration of State Route 140 would eliminate inconvenient detours or extended commute times for residents, businesses, and workers in the area. Restoration of the route would also give travelers a direct route to Yosemite National Park and other destinations along State Route 140. Eight build alternatives and one no-build alternative are being considered.
Project Description: The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), as assigned by the Federal Highway Administration propose to permanently restore the section of State Route 140 that was damaged by the Ferguson rockslide.
The following alternatives are being considered:
Alternative C: Realign the highway to the northeast, spanning the Merced River and bypassing the rockslide. The highway would cut through the mountain across from the rockslide and then span back across the river where it would meet the existing alignment. Two bridges would be constructed across the river.
Alternative T: Realign the highway to the northeast, spanning the Merced River and bypassing the rockslide. The highway would tunnel through the mountain across from the rockslide and then span back across the river where it would meet the existing alignment. Two bridges would be constructed across the river.
Alternative T-3: Construct a tunnel on a new alignment, tunneling into the west canyon wall, under the rockslide, and realigning with the existing highway.
Alternative S: Realign the highway to the northeast, spanning the Merced River with two bridges and bypassing the rockslide with a hillside viaduct.
Alternative S-2: Realign the highway to the northeast, spanning the Merced River with two steel truss bridges, or tied arch bridges, and bypassing the rockslide with a hillside viaduct.
Alternative R: Construct a rockshed through the rockfall debris (talus) and restore State Route 140 on the existing alignment.
No Build: State Route 140 would remain damaged and blocked by the rockslide. Temporary bridges will remain in place. This alternative would not meet the Purpose (restore full use of SR 140) and Need (restore safety, security, and welfare of communities affected by the slide) of the project.
Cost: Construction costs for the alternatives range from $18 million to $378 million
Funding Source: Federally funded through the Major Damage Permanent Restoration Program.
The “Project Fact Sheet” and additional information on the proposed solutions can be found on the California Department of Transportation’s website at http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist10/environmental/projects/fergusonslide/index.htm
View a video of the rockslide provided by the National Park Service: click here
Ferguson Rockslide In the spring of 2006, a rockslide buried a section of Highway 140 just outside of Yosemite National Park. The slide remained highly active for many days, allowing rare views of a rockslide in motion. The rockslide has been bypassed with temporary bridges, allowing Highway 140 to remain open. This footage was shot after the main rockslide, but while movement was still occurring.