Canyon cleanup goes awry
EventsFunding shortfall foils efforts in Rubio Canyon
By Kimm Groshong
Pasadena Star News Staff Writer
ALTADENA — Nearly six years after a water pipe replacement project in Rubio Canyon buried five waterfalls beneath tons of construction debris, and five months after the regional office of the USDA Forest Service reversed a decision to implement a removal plan, the fate of the popular hiking destination remains uncertain.
Glendale attorney Paul Ayers says money lies at the heart of the inaction on the Rubio Canyon clean-up. Although Congressmen David Dreier, R-Glendora, and Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, have secured more than $1.3 million for the Forest Service to spend on the project, the restoration of the canyon could cost as much as $4 million.
In 1998, Rubio Canon Land and Water Co., a small nonprofit water company serving parts of Altadena, received $485,000 to repair old and damaged water pipes in the canyon, in part from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The water company contracted Zaich Construction of Northridge and Tite Enterprises of Sylmar to work on the project. Blasting gone awry led to the accumulation of 35,000 cubic yards of boulders and debris.
When the dust settled, hikers and locals were outraged by the environmental damage done to the area and called for action. In September, Jody Cook, Supervisor of the Angeles National Forest, chose a plan from a list of alternatives compiled by the Irvine-based consulting firm, Jones & Stokes, hired by the Forest Service to assess the canyon. The plan she selected involved construction of a temporary road to the pile allowing construction trucks to cart away the debris.
But a neighbor in the area and the water company appealed Cook’s decision, recommending other alternatives. The water company argued in its appeal that removal was not needed since, “the canyon is in one of the fastest-eroding mountain ranges in the country, the San Gabriel Mountains, and rock debris falls in the canyon daily.’
In December, the Regional Forester’s Office reversed Cook’s decision. The reviewing officer said there were unanswered questions about possible violations of the National Forest Management Act and the Endangered Species Act, with regard to an endangered plant, known as Braunton’s milkvetch. John De La Torre, the Forest Service regional budget director, said much of the agency’s funding for fiscal years 2002 and 2003 was transferred to cover firefighting costs with little coming back.
Cook’s reworking of the Rubio Canyon environmental analysis following the December reversal will take time and money. And “when we set the priorities for this year, that project did not get funded,’ De La Torre said. “It’s very common with the Forest Service for nothing to happen,’ Ayers said. “Ultimately, the longer you drag it out the less likely it is to happen.’
Currently, Grand Chasm, Lodged Boulder, Moss Grotto, Ribbon Rock and Roaring Rift Falls remain buried by boulders from the canyon walls, as does a portion of the walkway foundation associated with the Mt. Lowe Railway, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.