Praxis Associates, the project management company overseeing thye Digital 395 project, will be pointing its loaders back toward Mono County in the coming weeks in an effort to skirt a Feb. 15 Sage Grouse deadline.
As of Feb. 15, Praxis would not be able to gain access to Green Creek and Dunderberg Meadow roads in Mono County due to nesting and leking Sage Grouse. According to Dave Arndal, Praxis Senior Engineer, the leking season runs into July and, if delayed, would leave Praxis with only one day to complete its work in that area before the end of the project funding on July 31.
The Mono County Board of Supervisors reviewed the request from Praxis during a special meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 29. The route, as explained by Arndal at the meeting, is about 12.25 miles long between U.S. 395 and Virginia Lakes Road.
The purpose of the plowing is to access the conduit route that was completed before Christmas so that Praxis can install cable, splice and test the fiber optic cable.
“We don’t need access to the dirt, just the vaults,” Arndal said.
The Feb. 15 leking deadline is a requirement of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).
Praxis proposed to perform the work with its own workforce and snowblowing equipment so as not to interfere with Mono County operations.
“Last month, we were caught in a windstorm and drifting snow that stranded our equipment for two weeks,” the Praxis report included in the Board’s packet stated. “We need the option to repeatedly remove the snow if caught in the middle of a storm. We need the flexibility to minimize this from happening again by keeping equipment on hand during the work.”
Mono County’s Director of Road and Fleet Services, Jeff Walters while not against Praxis using its own workforce and equipment, did voice some concerns.
“Who’s going to be out there and what skill set do they have,” Walters asked. “The road has no snow stakes, so how will it be navigated? We should consider any potential risks to recreationalists, since that area is not normally trenched in the winter. How will Praxis clean up once they are ready to leave?”
Lastly, Walters said that the County would want to inspect the work.
Arndal explained that Praxis planned to use a loader with a blower driven by a Bishop contractor who knows the area.
“We would use our GPS staking crew out in front of the loader,” Arndal explained regarding the navigation of the road. “There’s no way that a loader would stay on that road without a crew.
“Do we want to go up there in the snow,” Arndal added. “Absolutely not, but we are being held to dates by the DFW.”
He pointed out that there are also some concerning dates regarding goshawk nesting between Mammoth and June Lake but that the Inyo National Forest will not allow Praxis to use the snowmobile trails between the two towns to do its work this winter.
“Hopefully there won’t be any goshawk nests in our way come spring,” Arndal said.
In regard to cleanup, Mono County Supervisor Tim Fesko asked what bonds, if any the County has in place with Praxis in order to hold them accountable.
County Counsel Marshall Rudolph explained that while Praxis is not a County contractor, the County does have a license agreement with the company to allow it to use the County’s rights of way.
“I’m not worried about risk management,” Rudolph said. “There are provisions that would cover [accountability] in the license agreement.”
He did add, however, that plowing the road was not in the license agreement.
“It wasn’t contemplated,” Rudolph said. “This is an extra thing so it could require cost recovery.” There is not charge for County inspection work per the license agreement.
Inspection work would be done by Mono County’s Road Operations Supervisor Brett McCurry.
As for public access and recreation, Supervisor Larry Johnston said that Praxis would need to close off the area once it was finished with its work, as the County wouldn’t want the public going out on the road and getting stuck.
The Board voted 4-0 (Supervisor Byng Hunt was absent) to approve the request to remove snow, and to include in the agreement cost reimbursement for the County for any associated costs that arise from the snow removal.
Praxis expected to begin the work on Jan. 30, weather permitting.