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New stakeholder group will explore alternatives to Last Chance Grade

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KLAMATH- A newly formed stakeholder group is exploring options to bypass or stabilize the Last Chance Grade in Del Norte County.

The Last Chance Grade is a three and a half mile stretch of Highway 101 which is south of Crescent City. The roadway is in one of the most landslide prone areas in the country and has been edging towards the ocean over the years.  On Monday night in Klamath, Northern California lawmakers introduced the new stakeholder group, which will examine alternatives to the Last Chance Grade and forward its recommendations to Caltrans.

North Coast residents say driving on the Last Chance Grade can be scary.

"When I come up to the Last Chance Grade, I'm always worried about it sliding out," said Ples Fowler, who lives in Crescent City.

Kurt Stremberg’s parents died in a landslide on the Last Chance Grade in 1972, and he says something must be done as soon as possible.

"You look at the amount of time we're talking about from 1972, over 40 years now of no movement, no work done, no solution or alternatives," said Stremberg.

Caltrans officials say the stretch of roadway averages one to three landslides per decade, but if the road were to completely fail, it would cost $300 to $400 million annually to Del Norte County.  County officials agree.

"We can't survive in Del Norte County without connectivity to the rest of the state,” said David Finigan, the Del Norte County 5th District Supervisor.

On Monday night, Congressman Jared Huffman and Assemblymember Jim Wood announced the new 19 member stakeholder group, which includes local business representatives, government officials, environmental groups and tribal members.  Congressman Huffman organized the effort to form the group.

"You're talking about a sensitive part of our coast.  You're talking about a State and National Park, tribal lands, important natural resources, probably very high costs once this thing is all penciled out.  So it's going to be a challenging project and I think the best way to approach it is to get the right people around a table and start planning," said Congressman Huffman.

“The bigger the project, the more stakeholders that need to be at the table, and this is a big, big project," said Assemblymember Wood.

Elk Valley Rancheria is among the stakeholders.  The Tribal Chairman, Dale Miller, says giving the tribe’s input is critical to the alternative selection process.

“There are also some cultural sites and things between the two areas that we certainly want to see protected.  So it is very important to us," said Miller.

Caltrans will consider all the stakeholder input when selecting a project in the future.

“The input we're going to get from the stakeholder group is valuable information that'll help guide those environmental studies into further analysis and hopefully, at the end, we'll have consensus on the preferred alternative,” said Charlie Fielder, the Caltrans District 1 Director.

The stakeholder group will meet 10 times over the next year.  For the latest information on the Last Chance Grade, visit http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1projects/last_chance_grade/