No pivoting on Smith Canal gate

Elected officials showed no signs of backing off the Smith Canal flood gate project on Thursday, despite a bit of added pressure from the community.

Three separate times, the San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency board — made up of members of the Stockton City Council and San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors — voted to move forward with various aspects of the $37 million project.

But not before they heard from a handful of people who expressed some familiar, ongoing concerns about the need to build a flood gate in an area that has not flooded in modern times.

The critics included Dominick Gulli, a levee engineer who is suing SJAFCA, and Ernest Tufft, who lives on Smith Canal and has recently become quite vocal about his opposition.

Tuftt urged the board to slow down. “This winter, the performance of those levees was amazing,” he said. “Take a deep breath, relax, and think about this for the long term.”

But two board members who responded to the criticism suggested that the ship has sailed.

“This was discussed and debated extensively for years,” said Supervisor Kathy Miller.

Failure to build the gate would leave thousands still on the hook for flood insurance, and possibly more to come if FEMA widens the flood zone as the agency has suggested it will.

“As passionate as you are about not putting up this wall, we also hear from people who cannot afford the flood insurance,” said Supervisor Tom Patti. “Not a single person in this room woke up and said, ‘Guys, we want to build this wall, we think this is a great idea because we’ve got nothing better to do’… We are forced into the position we are in.”

The turnout for Thursday’s meeting was larger than usual, for a SJAFCA meeting, but that’s not saying much. All told, four people — including Gulli — shared their concerns with the project.

Among the items approved Thursday was the fourth yearly assessment for residents in the flood zone, who voted narrowly to pay for a share of the gate. The latest assessment, which averages $171 for a single family home, will raise nearly $1.7 million. Officials divulged last year that a portion of the assessment fees are also paying for SJAFCA’s legal defense against two lawsuits including Gulli’s.

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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