On Wednesday, March 5, 2008, a panel of eight Sacramento River enthusiasts including kayakers, river guides, boaters, and fishermen recommended that the City of Redding close the waterway beneath the Cypress Avenue Bridge construction site when river flows exceed 10,000 cubic feet per second (CFS). The river typically exceeds 10,000 CFS in the summer months.
The City appointed the panel to evaluate and monitor the conditions of the Cypress Avenue Bridge after a State of California report declared the waterway under the bridge unsafe. Many local fishermen were at odds with the closure of the bridge, citing potential loss of sport fishing revenues.
Since then, the City has been weighing the economic impact on the local sport fishing businesses against the potential danger to the lives and safety of the general boating public.
As it stands, the City’s safety proposal for the bridge’s water passage is selectively restrictive. The City would permit only certain boats to proceed through the 20-foot wide pilings with a vertical clearance of 9-to-11 feet, depending on water conditions. Other vessels, such as sailboats, canoes, inner tubes, non-motorized boats, and air mattresses would be prohibited from entering the waterway under the bridge Construction.
When the river flow exceeds 10,000 CFS, as mentioned above, the vertical clearance in the river will be reduced to only 6 feet. The increased water volume will also ensure a swifter current. Since the Sacramento River current already pushes vessels toward the steel pilings of the bridge construction, the added speed and diminished vertical clearance could create nightmares for both boating enthusiasts and the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department.
The Sheriff’s Department, tacitly acknowledging the dangerousness of the passage under the construction trestle, recently purchased two new high-powered jet skis to aide in the rescue of endangered boaters. In a two-day training session, the Sheriff’s Department committed the majority of its watercraft assets and personnel to a rescue strategy and practice maneuver.
Sheriff Captain John Dean has warned that though the Sheriffs have prepared for water rescues under the bridge construction, even rescuers may be in danger if the river flow is too high.
The selective nature in which the City permits or prohibits vessels from entering the area under the bridge also presents enforcement concerns. Since there are no signs approaching the Cypress Avenue Bridge that advise boaters of restrictions or dangers, it may be impossible for boaters to recognize the safety concerns that lie ahead. The subjectivity of the measures (i.e. which boats qualify at which times) may also hinder the City’s ability to deal with new conditions. It may be difficult for even the most experienced boater to judge whether the river flow exceeds 10,000 cubic feet per second as they approach the bridge.
The personal injury attorneys at Reiner, Simpson & Slaughter hope that the local businesses, government, and citizens fully analyze the serious potentials for death and injury that the construction site poses in making decisions concerning the safe management and control of the water ways during the next three years of construction.