By SEAN SCULLY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The slow pace of getting environmental permits has caused county parks officials to delay and scale back plans for a long-awaited pedestrian and bike trail through the community of Bodega Bay.
The Regional Parks Department had hoped to open the first mile of the planned 3.4-mile trail sometime late last year or early this year. It proved unexpectedly difficult, however, to get approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and construction may not begin until the end of this year, Senior Park Planner Mark Cleveland told a community meeting Wednesday night.
The process dragged on so long the federal government shelved a $535,000 grant for the project, more than half the funding for that segment of the trail. The county now plans to build just 0.4 mile of trail while officials wait to reapply for the federal money, leaving more than 0.6 mile, between Salmon Creek and the Bodega Bay Dunes campground, on indefinite hold.
“We’re waiting for that money to come back around to us, but that will probably be a couple of years,” Cleveland said. “We’d like to do something” in the meantime.
The truncated first segment of trail will run from the campground to the Bodega Bay Community Center, north of the main part of town. It could be open by fall 2014.
The remainder of the planned trail, more than 2 miles through the main commercial area to Doran Regional Park, is even farther from completion, Park Planner Ken Tam told a crowd of about 100 area residents.
The plan is to put most of that trail on an elevated boardwalk over the water, on the west side of the bayfront homes and businesses. But that means the agency will have to do extensive studies on birds, crabs and other sea life that live along the water’s edge. The agency doesn’t have any money available to begin doing the engineering work that would be necessary even to apply for state and federal environmental permits, Tam said.
Given the difficulty the agency encountered in building the first segment of the trail, he estimated the boardwalk through town might take 5 to 10 years to complete.
Residents at the meeting expressed dismay at the news. The trail plan has been in the works for 13 years. It began in 2000 when town residents asked county and state officials to look into some kind of path to allow locals and visitors to walk through town safely.
Currently, the only way to walk from one end of town to the other is along the narrow and winding Highway 1, which has little or no shoulder in most areas and no stoplights or crosswalks.
Several people at the meeting seemed annoyed that the resulting plan runs west of Highway 1 and does not provide pedestrian crosswalks to the east side, where the majority of residential development is.
“All of the people who live in the village part of town have to cross Highway 1 to use the trail in the first place, so I’m not really getting it,” Bodega Land Trust board member and former west county Supervisor Eric Koenigshofer said, drawing derisive laughter from the crowd.
Parks staff said the boardwalk idea is the best they can do because the route they have proposed is the only one available that runs along public land. Trails through other parts of town or along Highway 1 itself would require action by the county Transportation and Public Works Department or Caltrans and neither agency has seemed eager to pick up the project.
But even the current plan is fraught with difficulties, since it runs across environmentally sensitive streams, beaches and wetlands.
Cleveland said the delays in getting the first phase built began when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unexpectedly asked for more study on the endangered California red-legged frog. It’s taken almost two years for the agency to review that study, though the county hopes to have the approval by mid-summer.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also required that the path be elevated in four spots that cross federally protected wetlands, raising the cost and complexity.
When completed, the Bodega Bay Trail will cost at least $6 million. It would become part of the planned California Coastal Trail, a network of paths running 1,200 miles from Southern California to the Oregon border.
You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.