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December, 2006


Breech The Levees!
By Peter James Paul

Residents around Tomales Bay in West Marin are signing a grassroots petition calling for the immediate breaching of levees near Point Reyes Station. The levees force Papermill/Lagunitas Creek, during a heavy rain, to flood westward toward homes and businesses in town, rather than naturally spread out over the Tomales Bay Wetlands. Local residents hope that the levees will be breached, at the latest, before December 21, 2006 in order to avoid the usual flooding associated with heavy rains and storms in that month, sparing the homes and businesses that suffered such great loses last winter.
Residents are quick to offer comments concerning their dismay at seeing the levees along Papermill Creek, near Point Reyes Station, rebuilt and stabilized after being breached during last year's destructive flooding. Susan Prince, whose family had to be rescued from levee road by boat last New Year's Eve, said that she is very worried about what could happen this winter to both homes and business in town and to other residents of Inverness and Inverness Park if cut off from help over several days of dangerous flooding, like last year.

A number of residents of the levee road (Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Point Reyes Station) got together to create a petition to try to pressure the Park Service, along with the Giacomini Ranch, to comply with community concerns of being once-more flooded, with great loss of property and businesses.

The levees in question have historically been in place to protect the dairy of Richard Giacomini in Point Reyes Station. The ranchland grew over decades from diking and draining, and building levees to keep natural creek surges during storms from entering the Tomales Bay wetlands. In the 1970s, public pressure began to provide the National Park Service with the support to begin purchasing the ranch so as to recreate the wetlands and buy out the ranch. Sale price was 4.5 million dollars, and the takeover of the ranch by the Park Service was phased over several years, to culminate in March of 2007.

Until March 2007, the ranch has the legal right to make improvements to "their" lands, but only with the support of the Park Service, who has already paid for the land. Residents demanding the levees come down before the rains come state that the Giacomini dairy cows were sold to a Merced operation in October, leaving only some heifers for sale later. The few heifers and calves can easily be protected in upland corrals in case of heavy rains. So an understanding of why the levees were rebuilt at this time, endangering locals from Point Reyes Station to Inverness and beyond, is lacking for most people.

A recent article (19 November 2006) in the Marin Independent Journal by Paul Liberatore stated that locals were "sad" to see the cows go and lose the Giacomini Ranch on the edge of town. My own interviews with locals, in contrast, found that most residents seemed pleased with the phase-out of the ranch and were happy to have the formerly-pervasive smell of the cows finally gone, although they didn't want to publicly say so because the large Giacomini family was so intermarried and ingrained in the town. As one resident stated, there are quite a few dairies all around, so there will be no lack of cows to look at.

As Libertore mentions in his article, there are suspicions in town that the levees have been rebuilt in order to protect parcels of land along C Street in Point Reyes Station still owned by the Giacomini Trust. Although a number of residents suspect that the ultimate plan for the land along C Street is all about a concentrated feed lot, meaning more cows in their future, most residents interviewed felt that the only possible reason to rebuilt the levees at this point was to protect those still-owned parcels for development. Still, if the cows are not an issue to be protected this winter and there is presently no development along C Street on the wetlands, the question remains as to why the levees need to be up this rainy season, endangering the town.

When the levees were breached last year by the January storm, the surging waters lapped right up to the soft fill of cow manure along C Street. With global warming raising water levels worldwide, it seems obvious to this reporter at least that any use of the wetlands along C Street for commercial gain from now on will require protection via larger and larger levees, resulting in larger and larger loses to nearby residents in perpetuity.

The destruction of the levees, berms and dikes that allowed the existence of a commercial dairy ranch on the Tomales Bay Wetlands over the last decades was supposedly an integral part of the restoration of the wetlands. So this reporter is asking the Park Service, the Department of the Interior and the residents around Tomales Bay why the levees have been rebuilt for winter 2006-7 and what that means for the future restoration of the wetlands. Obviously, local residents of Point Reyes Station, Inverness Park and Inverness, targeted to be flooded out and/or cut off from help, would like to know, too.

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