By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun
Kern River Valley residents were updated on the Isabella Dam Safety Modification Project and given the opportunity to ask questions during a luncheon following the groundbreaking ceremony that marked the beginning of the construction phase of the multi-million dollar project.
The April 3 luncheon, held at Paradise Cove, was sponsored by the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce and Kernville Chamber of Commerce as an informal setting with representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service, Congressman Kevin McCarthy and First District Supervisor Mick Gleason.
With phase two of the project officially underway, Congressman McCarthy spoke optimistically about the safety aspect as he addressed the audience of community business leaders and chamber members. Asking attendees to focus on 2022, the year that the Isabella Dam Safety Modification Project is scheduled for completion, McCarthy asked audience members to think about the things that can be planned for in the future.
The Congressman said that the project has been a priority for him since he first took office, adding that with an estimated cost of more than $600 million, the project will bring key benefits, providing improved public safety, more storage in the lake and recreational opportunities.
When the Corps identified Isabella Dam as a safety risk, McCarthy said it was his job was to make sure the money would be there to fund the project.
McCarthy told the audience that the project will bring some challenges, including road detours and a reduced lake level during construction. But he noted that when the lake is dropped, it will be during the winter months when Isabella is typically at a low water level.
Construction is expected to only impact water levels for approximately four to six months during either the upcoming winter, or during the winter of 2019-2020.
“I know there will be challenges, but we will work through them,” McCarthy said. “We are now at a point when you will see a lot more movement, and you have to have a little disruption.”
McCarthy thanked community residents for their involvement and input during the design of the modification plan. “When we had to adapt, we all adapted, and I can’t thank the community enough for their input.”
Colonel David Ray, Commander with the Corps Sacramento District, reiterated some of what was discussed at the morning groundbreaking ceremony, including that the Corps’ No. 1 priority is life safety for the community and those living downstream from the dam. He stated that the $600,000 Dam Safety Modification Project will provide a benefit well into the future.
There were a few questions from those in attendance.
Cheryl Borthick, president of Kernville Chamber of Commerce, asked about job opportunities.
“There will be some job opportunities,” Ray responded, adding that the Corps encourages their contractors to engage with the local communities.
Julie Martinez noted that they have a sign-up sheet at their office in Lake Isabella and they have already handed out a number of applications. Martinez said that they are looking to hire locals as much as they can, noting that they contract with union contractors. Flatiron/Dragados/Sukut Joint Venture was awarded the $204 million contract last September.
Robin Shive questioned if their school district would see an influx of new students should construction workers move their families into the valley.
Martinez responded that while they encourage their contractors to move to and live in the work area, she could not answer whether there would be a noticeable increase in the number of students in area schools.
Phase two construction, which will raise both the main and auxiliary dams by 16 feet, along with construction of a new emergency spillway, is scheduled to be completed in 2022.