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In the News - Friday, May 29, 2009

—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)




Teams • Rosters • Records • Awards


Memorial Day boaters and swimmers descended

upon the Slick Rock Recreation Area.

Lake Kaweah will fill

to capacity this weekend

   Lake Kaweah will reach the 715-foot pool-elevation high water mark this Sunday (May 31), but it’s already been as high as 714.35 feet above sea level on Tuesday, May 26. And even at 714.20 feet on Wednesday, and for the rest of this historic weekend, a little water has already breached the spillway and will continue to do so as downslope winds in the early morning create an easterly chop.

  “They [the scientists] don’t want us to allow too much water to go over the spillway because then the material would become saturated,” said Phil Deffenbaugh, Lake Kaweah’s general manager. “It’s really not designed for extended periods of water.”
   The plan, according to Phil, is to fill the basin Sunday and keep it full to the brim for about a week. Then dam-tenders pull the plug, increase the outflow and begin the gradual drain-down.
   But to reach Lake Kaweah’s high watermark, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its contractors for the last couple of decades have had to dream big, meet lots of challenging deadlines, and when it came to things that couldn’t be controlled such as the weather, just plain hope for some good luck.
   In hindsight, everything has lined up as planned and, according to Phil, has turned out better than expected. But that wasn’t always the case because it’s not easy to foresee what might go right or wrong when millions of taxpayers’ dollars are at stake.
   The biggest part of that expenditure was completed when the USACE finished the Lake Kaweah basin enlargement in 2004 that increased the capacity from 142,000 acre feet to its present 185,000. Nobody knew then what they know now nor was anybody certain how these public works were going to work.
   First came the innovative fuse gates at the spillway of Terminus Dam, engineered to survive a flood of biblical proportions. The local ones that were installed are among the biggest on the planet.
   Then there was the remodeling of the Horse Creek Bridge that not only relocated the highway a few critical feet higher, but also widened the roadway making the tricky curve safer. Often the scene of deadly accidents in the past, there are noticeably less incidents where emergency personnel are called to respond.
   Among the last pieces to the basin’s enlargement puzzle was the building of the dike at Holiday Lodge in Three Rivers and highway realignment of Sierra Drive west of Pierce Drive. Now in the midst of the fifth high water season for these infrastructure improvements, there have been few surprises and the future of Lake Kaweah is looking bright.
   That also according to Phil Deffenbaugh, who has been at the helm of the federal flood control facility for more than two decades. In addition to knowing that the best-laid plans of the Army Corps planners and scientists are working, Phil is extremely proud of the recreation amenities that the public gets to use and enjoy that also required some re-development.
   On Wednesday, May 13, the new boat ramp opened at Slick Rock. It’s been packed the last two weekends with boaters, and the consensus is nothing short of awesome.
   The Cal Boating grant that funded the new facility was more than 10 years in the making. The timing for the $1.5 million project couldn’t have been more fortunate as it was recently announced that currently there are no more funds available in the state program due to California’s budget woes.
   Phil admits there have been some issues with the parking at Slick Rock, especially during the past two busy weekends, but they are being resolved.

  “At first, a lot of folks were parking in front of the Lazy J Motel but the CHP worked to redirect that traffic to other areas,” Phil said. “The parking along the highway [at Slick Rock] is only temporary until we regain some of the spots that are now under water.”
   Phil said the collection of fees is working well. Slick Rock ramp users are paying the $4 fee or buying a seasonal pass for $30. Technically, those who park along the highway are walk-ins so they are not being required to pay.

  “Some of those users who are parking on the highway and launching a boat are also paying,” Phil reported. “The payment of fees seems to be having the desired effect, and so far everyone is respecting the new facilities.”
   Phil said a grand opening of the newly improved Slick Rock Recreation Area will be held while there is still substantial water in the upper basin. A ribbon-cutting celebration with the local chamber of commerce is currently being scheduled for the Fourth of July.

Local drivers deal

with road hazards

   Tulare County Fire Department units and a CHP officer responded to a single vehicle crash on Tuesday, May 26, that occurred at 10:23 a.m. approximately one-half mile north of the Airport Bridge turn-off. According to information gathered at the scene, the driver, Walter Aguilar, 86, of Kaweah was southbound when he lost control of his 2001 Lexus LS430 after he swerved to avoid an oncoming vehicle that had crossed the centerline.
   The unsafe turning action caused the Lexus to skid off the right side of the roadway, then careen across both lanes and strike a tree. When firefighters and emergency personnel arrived on the scene, they found Aguilar pinned in the vehicle.
   The passenger side was crushed and the driver’s side was blocked by a tree and bushes. Aguilar, who appeared to have a moderate head injury, was extricated and transported via ambulance to Kaweah Delta Hospital.
   IN AN UNRELATED INCIDENT during the afternoon of that same day, an unidentified student allegedly tossed a blue ice container off a Three Rivers-bound Woodlake High School bus while it was passing Boat Ramp No. 2 at Lake Kaweah. The projectile struck the windshield of a 1992 Toyota pickup driven by Diane Frazier of Three Rivers.
Frazier, who had her two children, ages 6 and 9, in the vehicle, was terrified but used her windshield wiper to disperse the bluish glop.

  “When we passed the school bus, I saw something out of the corner of my eye and then there was a loud crack and bang,” recalled Frazier. “It sounded like someone hit the windshield with a sledgehammer.”
   Frazier, who was on her way to Woodlake High, reported the incident to the administration and a CHP officer was summoned to take her statement. Since the incident is classified as an “intended act” and not an “unintended” accident, the incident actually falls within the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department.
   To date, nobody has taken responsibility for heaving the ice pack off the bus. The Woodlake School District has agreed to pay $205 to replace the windshield.
   Anyone with information in the case is asked to call Woodlake High School at 564-3307 or Deputy Jim Fansett at 740-8894.

Tour teaches fire-safe tactics

by Brian Rothhammer

   A fire is raging on a hillside close to your home. Smoke fills the air and an eerie orange glow announces impending doom. The wail of sirens is a welcome sound.
   Will fire crews be able to save your house? Is your home defendable?

  “We have to go in and decide which structures are defendable,” said Chief Paul Marquez of Tulare County Fire Department during a defensible space home tour held on Saturday, May 16, in Three Rivers.
   In advance of a rapidly moving wildfire, firefighters must make quick decisions as to which structures can be saved.
   One home that was toured illustrated the point well. Tucked away amid a maze of narrow, winding streets (pathways, really) and brush-filled ravines was a handsome home on a well-cleared site.

  “This home is defendable,” said Paul. “We can get in and protect it.”
Small flags were set out at distances of 30 and 100 feet from the home.

  “In 2002, [Public Resources Code] 4291 expanded the defensible space requirement from 30 to 100 feet,” Paul said as he pointed to the flags.
   The area from the structure to the 30-foot mark should be clear of any brush, tall grass, wood piles, or other flammable materials.
   From 30 to 100 feet should be a “shaded fuel break.” Walking under an oak tree to illustrate, Paul talked of removing tree limbs to a clearance of six feet from the ground and eliminating “ladder fuels,” the vegetation, live or dead, that gives flames a route to climb into the tree canopy.
   This zone may be landscaped with a wide variety of low, ground-covering plants, but advice was given to avoid “flashy fuels” such as eucalyptus or other oily, fast-burning plants.

  “You want the fire to lay down, then we can more easily manage it and put it out,” said Paul.
   Also consider fire-safe materials when adding on to or building homes. This advice was offered by Deb Schweizer, fire information officer at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

  “It’s an investment in your home,” she said. “Every year, I look around to see what I can do to reduce fire hazards.”
   Materials such as stucco or brick are attractive, aesthetic, and less flammable than wood products.

  “We really like to see metal roofs” added Paul, and recommended that people familiarize themselves with PRC 4290, which identifies the fire hazard severity zones statewide and governs development in wildland areas.

  The home toured had a tile roof, which is an excellent choice. The spaces at the ends, however, were not screened which can allow windborne embers to fly into those spaces and smolder. Also check your roof vents for screens.
   Another thing firefighters need is clear access. Old cars, RVs, boats, and debris piles should be away from structures with accessible, wide pathways.
   This demonstration house had easy access, smart new landscaping, and so many other positive aspects that would be welcome sights to firefighters when minutes mean everything
   The firewood was stacked well away from the house, but in contrast, the four feet high by 10 feet long woodpile was next to the propane tank, even under it. This could present a problem.

  “We would have to send a crew there to clear that,” said Chief Marquez.
   Which brings us back to square one.
   Would your house be defendable? A good start is to ensure that your spaces are defensible.
   Visit the Cal Fire website at www.fire.ca.gov for more information on fire safety.

Public comment requested

for Park Ridge wireless tower

   An environmental assessment for the proposed construction of an 80-foot cellular tower on Park Ridge near Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park has been released by Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The National Park Service is required by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to consider all applications for the installation of cellular equipment on NPS lands.
   In June 2007, Verizon Wireless submitted an application to the NPS to construct, operate, and maintain a wireless telecommunications facility on Park Ridge near Grant Grove Village in Kings Canyon National Park. Park Ridge is an established telecommunications site for Sequoia-Kings Canyon. Current structures on Park Ridge include two concrete-block structures containing NPS and U.S. Forest Service communications equipment with power generators, a 20-foot fire lookout tower, two 40-foot lattice towers with NPS and USFS telecommunications equipment, and a 30-foot tower on the NPS communications building supporting a passive reflector used for landline service operated by Verizon California.
   The tower would provide wireless communication and Internet coverage along a portion of the Generals Highway and State Highway 180 in the vicinity of Grant Grove Village and Wilsonia in Kings Canyon and nearby undeveloped areas within the park and the surrounding Giant Sequoia National Monument. The telecommunications facility would include an 80-foot monopole tower with antennas, a prefabricated single-story building beside the tower for equipment storage, and a standby generator. The unmanned facility would provide service to area residents and businesses year-round, 24 hours per day.
   The EA to “Construct Verizon Wireless Telecommunication Facility atop Park Ridge in Kings Canyon National Park” may be reviewed and public comment may be submitted online by selecting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks at the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment website: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/seki. Printed or CD versions of the document may be obtained by calling (559) 565-3102.
   The public may also direct concerns or comments regarding this project to the park in writing by sending an e-mail to seki_planning@nps.gov, or the public may mail or hand deliver their comments to:
Superintendent Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Attn: Verizon Wireless Project
47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, CA 93271
   All comments must be received by Monday, June 22, 2009. Commenters should know that their entire comment, including personal identifying information, may be made publicly available at any time. While commenters can ask in their comments to withhold personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.
   Anonymous comments will not be accepted.


Luis Figallo
1942 ~ 2009

   Luis “Lucho” Anthonio Figallo of Three Rivers died Monday, May 18, 2009. He was 66.
   Lucho was born May 26, 1942, in Sullana, Piura, Peru, to Victor and Berta Figallo. In 1979, he received his Master’s degree in Spanish from California State University, Northridge.
   He was a Spanish and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at Golden West High School and College of the Sequoias in Visalia until his retirement in 2007.
   Lucho was active in many groups such as the Spanish Club, Campus Bible Student, and elder of the Deacon Ministry. He enjoyed gardening; traveling, especially to Peru; and entertaining and spending time with family and friends.
   Lucho is survived by his wife of 40 years, Mary Figallo of Three Rivers; three sons, Luis Figallo Jr. and wife Jessica of Visalia, Paul Figallo of Cayucos, and Nick Figallo of Visalia; four brothers and four sisters, all of whom reside in Peru; and three grandchildren, Rexton, Quincy, and Piper Figallo.
   A visitation, celebration of life, and graveside service were held earlier this week in Visalia.
   In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org).

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
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