Winter visitors to county: Fix the bridge
Road closed signs block the bridge Monday on Evan Hewes Highway that has been closed as the sides of the bridge are eroding.
The wide-open spaces, perfect for the birds Chadwick encourages to come to her house with bird seed and feeders, is peaceful, while still being a centralized location with San Diego, Yuma and Palm Springs within a few hours’ drive, she said.
More than that, there’s a spirit of community within the group and the surrounding Valley residents, she said. It’s like a home away from home, with neighbors looking out for each other.
“It really does remind me of the ’50s,” she said. “I grew up in the ’50s in Idaho, and we didn’t lock our doors. You keep an eye out. It’s very, very much a tight-knit community that we live in, but that’s the way we were raised.”
The dozens of events set up throughout the past few months, the friendly smiling neighbors walking by, the chairs set up outside the RVs shows a community loved by its residents that feel as though they are being cut off from much of the county.
With one of the main access bridges at Evan Hewes Highway blocked off, some winter visitors are saying they don’t know if they will head back to the hot springs next year because they are left with few options of how to get there.
The impacts can already be felt by some at the hot springs, who say temporary residents have left to other areas.
One of the main issues for the winter visitors of that area is emergency services, like ambulances and fire trucks, said visitor Steve Hunter. Those services, along with all the snowbirds staying there, are having to take 11- or 12-mile detours to get to the site, and even those side roads can become muddy messes if it rains.
The other option besides the dirt roads that run along the East Highline Canal are going to Highway 98 east toward Yuma, which has led to more people heading east for shopping and supplies, rather than toward El Centro and Holtville, he said.
At various times throughout the winter season, which spans from Sept. 15 to April 15, there are about 200 people staying at the campgrounds, he said. That’s a lot of business to divert elsewhere.
He, and a group of others who spend their winters at the hot springs, are planning to head to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors meeting at 8:30 a.m. today to ask for the bridge to be a priority to get fixed. And that’s what some in the county are working on.
The Board of Supervisors is set to vote on whether to declare a state of emergency for the Evan Hewes Highway bridge over the East Highline Canal, which will speed up the process of getting the project done, said Public Works Director Bill Brunet. The emergency would be because of the public health and safety risk as emergency vehicles have to make a big 30-mile loop to access the winter visitors in the area.
Water from the canal has eroding the bridge support for a long time, he said. If cars or trucks drive over that, there’s a chance they could break through the asphalt.
“We’d much rather have the drivers go around than punch through the asphalt and have a wreck,” he said.
The county has been working since it put up the concrete barriers last month on plans to do the repairs, and are set to go before the board to ask for the emergency declaration. A project like this typically goes through the bidding process, which would add another 30 to 60 days onto the project, Brunet said.
If the emergency is declared, the county can just ask businesses for prices and circumvent the bidding process, he said. From there it will take about 60 days to complete the project.
There is a second phase of the project that would involve putting in erosion controls so that this issue doesn’t happen again, Brunet said. However, that’s a much longer process.
Some in the area don’t feel they can wait.
It’s a big inconvenience, said Jim Buffel, of Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. The bridge has been out for a long time, though even semi-trucks have been driving over it, he said. It just doesn’t make sense to have the big trucks driving on it and now close it off to the cars.
He and his wife still make the drive out to the next bridge over or onto Highway 98 to head into Imperial Valley’s center for some trips, but others are not.
While Holtville Chamber of Commerce President Laura Goodsell doesn’t know the effect the bridge closure has had on businesses within the city, it does have the potential.
“I think it can affect local businesses if they (snowbirds) can’t get into town conveniently,” she said. “We would like to see it taken care of, but we do understand there are secondary issues.”
The community loves the snowbirds, and they bring a lot to the community, Goodsell said. They’re just so helpful, especially during the town’s festivals and events. It would be sad to see any of them not come back again next year.
Staff Writer Elizabeth Varin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-337-3441.