Published June 17, 2007 at RanchoMurieta.com
As the community celebrated the opening of the pedestrian bridge Saturday, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the 410-foot wood span is that it exists at all. And that’s something destined to be forgotten as the bridge takes its place in the life of the community.
“Twenty years in the future, when people look back, they’re going to take it for granted. But the struggle to get it in place and the benefit of everybody using it is … immense,” remarked Ed Crouse, Community Services District general manager, in the days before the grand opening.
The bridge comes after more than 15 years of failed efforts to use the Yellow Bridge to connect the North and South, and bridge proposals that came to nothing.
It’s the bridge no one wanted to pay for, and yet the Rancho Murieta Association succeeded in getting over $1.5 million in developer funds to pay for it.
It was feared the Cosumnes River was so environmentally sensitive the approval process would take too long and cost too much to allow the project to move forward. But the CSD shepherded the project through the environmental review process and bridge builder Viking Construction secured the permits.
In the end, it took the efforts of many and the vision and determination of a few key people to make the bridge a reality.
Randy Jenco, owner of Viking Construction, was first contacted about building a bridge in 1998 after Greg Vorster, then the general manager of the RMA, learned there was a bridge builder who lived in the community.
The idea reached critical mass a few years later, when time was running out to act on a county requirement for the river crossing just as a get-it-done new director joined the RMA board.
The South developer was required to provide a river crossing before the building permit for the 601st home on the South was issued. Maps for subdivisions on the South carried this requirement, which specified use of the Yellow Bridge for the crossing.
Even before he was elected to the RMA board in 2001, Mike Schieberl had taken an interest in the problem of connecting the two parts of the community. Using legal documents he’d unearthed, Schieberl worked with the association on an effort to secure access to the Yellow Bridge from the Country Club.
When the effort failed, South developer Reynen & Bardis prepared to petition the county to have the requirement removed so they could continue building homes for the red-hot real estate market that prevailed at the time.
“I’m a person that if I’m stopped by one thing, I’ll find another way to approach it or another way around it,” Schieberl said. “One of the big issues we were hearing at that particular point in time was, well, that’s going to cost millions and millions of dollars to do that and you’re not going to be able to get permits to get it done.”
Vorster arranged to meet with Jenco, and the three men discussed the feasibility of building a bridge in a location Schieberl, who has an engineering background, had selected.
Jenco estimated it would cost about $1.4 million to design and build the bridge that would rise above the high-water level of the Cosumnes. The cost included environmental studies for the permits that would be required.
Jenco was confident the permits could be secured, based on Viking Construction’s experience building bridges in environmentally sensitive areas.
“That information allowed me to go back to Reynen & Bardis and say if you fund this $1.4 million and put it in escrow with the county, you’ve fulfilled your obligation,” said Schieberl. “And we’ve got funding for the bridge and everybody wins. And that’s what made it happen. … We had the backing of (Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli) and all (the county) cared about was they were under pressure from Reynen & Bardis … to let them continue building, so I just used that to my advantage.”
Said the CSD’s Crouse, “If it wasn’t for Greg and Mike Schieberl getting down (to the county) at the last minute with Randy Jenco’s bridge as a viable alternative, and getting the county to listen to them and support that project, networking and consensus building with Reynen & Bardis to support that bridge as a requirement, it could have gone either way.”
“I think the guy’s who’s going to get overlooked and probably deserves most of the credit is Mike Schieberl,” said John Merchant, who worked for a river crossing during his two terms on the RMA board and his four years as a CSD director. “Without his perseverance and his work down at the county, I just think that we would have wound up with some type of mitigated plan that the developers would have submitted and the county would have ultimately bought just to get this thing off their backs.”
The county Board of Supervisors passed an interim ordinance in August 2003 that changed the river crossing requirement to a $1.5 million bridge funded by developers and allowed Reynen & Bardis to continue to build homes on the South.
In 2005, the supervisors passed a permanent version of the ordinance that added $250,000 in developer funding to the total.
The bridge was a Parks Committee project that was carried out by the RMA.
The five voting members of the Parks Committee – two RMA directors, two representatives of the development community in Rancho Murieta, and one CSD director – control the parks fund, which consists of developer contributions and smaller, matching contributions from the RMA through dues. Committee members approve funding for projects identified in a master plan for the community’s parks.
Vorster became the project manager for the bridge with the approval of the Parks Committee. Danise Hetland, assistant general manager, was appointed to take over when Vorster left the association in March 2005.
“One thing that was difficult was we had three different tracks going with the funding, the easements and the permits, and they all depended on each other and they all had to be done at the same time,” Hetland said. “Trying to keep those three things on track when they’re interdependent … was really hard.”
Vorster had cautioned that “the funding is just the first battle in a long war.”
The next major battle was the environmental process and permitting for the bridge. The Parks Committee took a cautious approach and limited expenditures on the bridge until the permits were in place.
Hetland credits the engineering firm for the project, Quincy Engineering, and the efforts of senior engineer James L. Foster, with securing the permits.
Crouse said the engineers mitigated the environmental impacts to a level that “went a long way towards getting the project through the (California Environmental Quality Act) compliance effort. That was huge.” The governmental agencies involved in the permitting could have imposed “onerous mitigation measures (with) the potential to derail the project,” he said.
In Crouse’s view, another “potential death blow” to the project was averted when the CSD agreed to be the lead agency and shepherd the project through the process of complying with CEQA. John Merchant, then a CSD director, pushed for the district to take on the role.
By late spring 2005, the permits were in place, the timber superstructure for the bridge had been fabricated in Oregon and the project was ready to begin.
Then everything came to a standstill because the RMA and the Pension Trust Fund for Operating Engineers couldn’t agree on an easement agreement for the bridge property and the RMA refused the PTF’s offer to give the property to the association.
The bridge property is part of land on both sides of the river that was set aside as a resource protection area by the county in the 1970s. The property is owned by the PTF, and the terms of the Mutual Benefit Agreement between the RMA and the PTF call for the PTF to transfer the property to the RMA at no cost.
“It didn’t look like either entity had a sense of urgency to get together and try to solve it constructively,” said Crouse. “We wanted to break the logjam between RMA and PTF about ownership of the bridge.”
“If (the CSD) hadn’t done that I don’t think they would have ever built this thing,” said Merchant. “Once we had that commitment to move forward, everybody did at that point come on board. The (Country Club) was very helpful. …
“I think it was a real highlight in the history of CSD because I think that board recognized that bridge was really in the best interests of the community, and in line with the CSD’s mission and responsibility. The board decided to take charge of that thing and make it happen, no matter what. If we had to take the property, and we had to do the negotiating, and we had to whatever was needed, we were going to put that bridge across the river. And then once it was up, we could worry about who owned it, who maintained it, who built the path … We figured once it was there somebody was going to find a way to go across it. And we were right. All in all, it worked out.”