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Officials approve Pajaro River flood protection project

Donna Jones, Santa Cruz Sentinel

WATSONVILLE - Crews could begin removing sediment from the Pajaro River as early as July to reduce flooding risk and restore native habitat.

The bench excavation project, in the works for seven years, cleared a major hurdle Tuesday as Santa Cruz County flood control officials approved the plan and environmental documents.

"It's a miracle," said property owner Diane Porter Cooley after the unanimous vote by the Flood Control and Water Conservation District Zone 7 board of directors.

The project calls for removing 32,000 dump truck loads of dirt.

The estimated $8.3 million project will be done over two years because all the needed funding is not in place, according to Bruce Leclergue, county flood control manager.

The first phase, estimated to cost $2.3 million, will consist of removing about 140,000 cubic yards of dirt, about 14,000 truck loads, starting near the Main Street bridge and moving west.

The second phase, will focus on the rural area east of Salsipuedes Creek. That second section will cost more because more dirt will have to be hauled longer distances, Leclergue said.

Residents along the Pajaro River have been waiting for flood protection since 1995, when storm waters punched through the levee and devastated homes and farms in Monterey County. The bench excavation was conceived as a bigger project to upgrade the 63-year-old U.S. Army Corps of Engineer levee.

The excavation project will now go out to bid. The board is scheduled to choose a contractor June 18.

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