Congress members to tour Last Chance
Del Norte’s congressman and the U.S. representative for Southern Oregon will tour Last Chance Grade and the Smith River on Friday.
Weather permitting, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) will fly over the slide prone area of U.S. 101. If it’s rainy, the congressmen may tour the area with Caltrans representatives by van, said Huffman spokesman John Driscoll.
Following the tour, Huffman and DeFazio will meet with representatives of Caltrans and members of Huffman’s Last Chance Grade Stakeholders Group to discuss efforts to reroute the highway around the slide.
DeFazio not only represents Southern Oregon, including Brookings, he is a ranking member on the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Driscoll said Huffman wanted DeFazio to see the extent of the slide.
“We’re introducing him to the project,” Driscoll said Monday.
Huffman and DeFazio’s tour of Last Chance Grade comes shortly after the bypass project was included on a list of Caltrans projects currently underway in Del Norte County as of September.
According to the list, the Last Chance Grade project extends from Wilson Creek Bridge to a point 3.8 miles north. The estimated project cost is more than $1 billion and the projected start date is June 2031.
There are six options being considered for re-routing U.S. 101 around the slide. California Governor Jerry Brown earlier this summer declared the project an emergency. Staff with the Federal Highway Safety Administration’s Colorado office will be at the site this winter installing instrumentation that will monitor for additional failures and measure groundwater depth.
Meanwhile, Caltrans is currently building two new retaining walls and repairing an existing wall at Last Chance Grade. Scott Cohen, Caltrans project manager for Last Chance Grade, told the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission on Oct. 13 that he expects the new retaining walls to be completed by Feb. 1.
DeFazio and Huffman’s Del Norte visit will include a trip to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. There, they will meet with representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, tribal representatives, conservation groups and local government to discuss a proposed 20-year mineral withdrawal on a tributary of the Smith River in Oregon.
“They’ll talk about how they see that going forward and trying to put a little bit of pressure on the BLM and the Forest Service,” Driscoll said.
If the weather isn’t too bad, the congressmen may also have an opportunity to float down the Smith River via drift boat for a short ways, according to Huffman’s office.
Their visit to the banks of the Smith coincide with a bill that would withdraw areas of the Siskiyou National Forest along the Rogue, Illinois and Smith rivers from future mining.
Sponsored by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the bill would permanently block about 95,000 acres of land in Oregon’s Curry and Josephine counties from new mining claims, mineral leasing and geothermal leasing.
The legislation would halt Red Flat Nickel’s proposal to strip-mine more than 3,000 acres in an area drained by Baldface Creek, a primarily tributary for the North Fork Smith River, for nickel, cobalt and chromium. The proposed strip mine would be about 12 miles west of O’Brien just outside the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
The Smith River, a designated Wild and Scenic river, is the source for much of Crescent City’s drinking water.