Delta Groups Unite: Request Tunnel Efforts Put On-Hold During this Crisis

I hope you and your family are hanging in there during this stressful time.

If you are like me, the last thing you want is one more issue to worry about right now. If you live in the Delta, one of the biggest stress-producing concerns over the past ten years has been worrying about what the impact to our lives and our economies would be from the Delta Tunnels project. The impact on our lives was not reduced when the project morphed from two tunnels to one. Yet no pandemic will stop the State from roaring ahead on this impractical, ill-conceived tunnel project.

The WaterFix project had to be withdrawn in 2019 and the Department of Water Resources (DWR) was told to go back to the drawing board. But they found a way around the problem and have been paying a separate group, the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA), to roar ahead on the design of the single tunnel, based on the WaterFix plan. The DCA board members are all water contractors, most from the Metropolitan Water District. Last year, the DCA formed a Stakeholder Engagement Committee (SEC), comprised of members throughout the Delta, to provide insight and feedback on the plans. Naturally, every SEC member is adamantly opposed to the project, but are being asked to help find the lest-objectionable route and help the State reduce impacts from the project. That’s a tough ask, and almost impossible to do.

Karen Mann from Discovery Bay was chosen as the SEC representative for local businesses in the South Delta. Karen owns her own appraisal business, helps raise four grandchildren, and is also the President of Save the California Delta Alliance. She’s a busy lady. But she is adamant about saving the Delta, so traveled to each SEC meeting to present concerns of Delta folks about the aspects of the “new” tunnel design.

As the Coronavirus crisis became more apparent, Karen had to miss the March 11 SEC meeting. About a third of the DCA Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee members were unable to attend that meeting. DCA clearly knows the angst the tunnel project brings to Delta folks and that now they were in the middle of a pandemic. Yet DCA was determined to plow ahead – crisis or no crisis.

On May 16, as the representative of local businesses in the Delta, Karen wrote to Kathryn Mallon, DCA Executive Director, and to Karla Nemeth, Director of the DWR, to request

that the stakeholder outreach effort be put on hold during this crisis… The Single Tunnel EIR process and comment period should be on hold also for the same reason. The citizens are reeling right now. It is not the time to be ramrodding a project that has so many significant, hurtful impacts and expect people to have the energy to devote to provide thoughtful comments and input.

At the same time, Delta Defenders, a group formed to unite Delta residents fighting the Delta tunnels, based in the Northern part of the Delta, also noted the absurdity of the state moving ahead with the tunnel Stakeholder Engagement meetings at this time. They asked,

Seriously? During this public health emergency, the Department of Water Resources and the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority are expecting Delta residents to go through a 95 page PowerPoint containing detailed information on two alternative alignments for the proposed Delta tunnel project? We are supposed to evaluate proposed mitigations and communicate any concerns to our “representatives” on the Delta Stakeholder Engagement Committee?

We ask the question, why is the DCA and DWR continuing to rush
forward with the Delta tunnel engineering design? Why does the Delta stakeholder engagement process have to be pushed forward during a public health emergency, regardless of what Delta residents are dealing with?

Karla Nemeth, Director of the DWR replied that the March 25 meeting would continue. The effort plowed ahead. After the May 19 announcement that the State was under a “Shelter in Place” order, the March 25 meeting was cancelled.

On March 23, DCA announced that “DCA Board meetings and Stakeholder Engagement Meetings will be accessible through video, phone or live.” Very insensitive. They should have postponed the effort indefinitely instead. They sent email out to the SEC members with a survey asking if members had a computer and internet at home and reminding them to submit answers to the questionnaires that were distributed at the last meeting. They were asking Delta residents to do homework, gather feedback from other Delta residents, and still work on this distasteful project, regardless of if there are kids being home schooled, people still trying to work, or sickness in the household.

Yesterday, Restore the Delta and the Sierra Club California joined in the call to stop any tunnel activities which

seek and receive benefit of other agencies’ actions for which public participation is critical, and during the pandemic, scarce and distracted.

I’ll let you know if what the DCA decides to do.

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