Roadway project lays an egg with ‘nesting birds'

April 22, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — This city is being forced to sit on $911,945 of federal money granted to widen and repave traffic-heavy Cole Road on the northeast end of town.

Mariano Martinez, Calexico's public works director, said he is ready to solicit bids, contract out the work and get the project started.

There is one small problem.

Actually, there could be more than 100 small problems nesting in eucalyptus trees on the Cole family homestead.

Martinez said Calexico can't begin work on Cole Road until Sept. 1 because the California Department of Transportation has determined there might be "nesting species of birds" in those trees.

"We were told the noise could disturb the breeding season of the birds if there are, in fact, migratory birds living in those eucalyptus trees," Martinez said.


Before the city can begin work on the road a study must be done to find out if there are birds there.

Martinez said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study would take four to six months. He is shooting for Sept. 10 as the date when construction would start.

The Cole House and small grove of trees is a mile east of Highway 111 on Cole Road.

In addition to widening the road, part of the almost $1 million set aside by Caltrans would be spent on a signal light and an increased number of lanes at the Meadows Avenue-Cole Road intersection.

That intersection has been cited by the Calexico City Council and the EPA as a public safety hazard.

Martinez was told of the conditions surrounding the Cole Road widening project by an e-mail sent by Martin Rosen, district heritage preservation coordinator for Caltrans.

"We have finally received approval from the Federal Highway Administration to proceed with the Anderson project," Rosen wrote.

Dave Anderson is the San Diego developer who bought the acreage from the Cole family.

Rosen writes that Calexico can "go ahead" with the California Environmental Quality Act and NEPA studies, which precede any federally funded project as long as the city follows two conditions.

· The subject parcel of concern, that containing Cole House and mature landscaping, is not touched while EPA studies are done for the widening.

· Work on the remainder of Anderson's property can commence, except for a 200-foot buffer around the edge of the parcel to protect any possible nesting species during the current breeding season. That buffer area must remain untouched until Sept. 1, in accordance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Martinez said Anderson must hire an architectural historian to determine if the Cole House, which is more than 50 years old, qualifies as a historic place.

If the historian determines it is historic, the apartment development planned for that area could be in jeopardy.

Martinez said the situation is frustrating but just one of many things his department must address when using federal funds.

Bill Wilder, Caltrans project coordinator for San Diego and Imperial counties, said the precaution, care and meticulous attention to detail are required of all federal projects.

"Even if you use one federal dollar you have to go through certain hoops mandated by the Federal Highway Administration," Wilder said.

Wilder explained the process such grants go through.

The FHWA gives money to a state, in this case California. Sacramento gives money to Caltrans. Caltrans then obligates that money to the Imperial Valley Association of Governments, which gives it to the city, in this case Calexico.

The city then hires a contractor to do the work after the developer and the city work out an arrangement concerning all environmental and traffic studies.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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