Mary McClain: Need 174 cleared through park |

Mary McClain: Need 174 cleared through park

When Nevada County announced its Egress/Ingress Fire Safety Project earlier this month, I felt so encouraged to hear that hazardous vegetation would be removed from 200 miles of county-maintained roads.

The project aims to allow residents to evacuate more quickly in an emergency and allow firefighters better access to prevent structure fires. Yay!

This project does not include the stretch of Highway 174 that leads out of town from Grass Valley. The Empire Mine State Park borders Highway 174 from about Race Street up to East Empire Street. It is thick with brush and downed trees — drive by and see for yourself.

According to the CalTrans deputy district director, their very narrow prescriptive easement only extends about 8 to 10 feet from the roadway. Of course, it is not a county-maintained road. So the responsibility lies with Empire Mine State Park.

Two years ago, I presented public comment to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors about hazardous vegetation on the boundaries of the Empire Mine State Park. In response, they wrote a letter dated Feb. 26, 2019, to the governor and Cal Fire, among others.

They addressed evacuation routes including Highway 174, stating: “It is imperative that swift action be taken to ensure these roadways are made as safe as possible for first responder ingress and community egress. These state highways are in dire need of immediate hazardous fuels mitigation, and in many places, these roads are only two lanes in width. In the event of a catastrophic wildfire necessitating a mass evacuation, these narrow, overgrown roadways would serve as perilous evacuation routes.”

The state park forester recently told me there is no timeline for this project due to other priorities and a limited budget. So I’m reaching out once again to advocate for action with the Grass Valley City Council and Nevada County Supervisor Dan Miller. The best option I’ve found is The Governor’s Forest Management Task Force that addresses fuel reduction projects in California. It was recently used with the Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone Project.

I live in the Highway 174 corridor and drive through this narrow section every day. It could be my evacuation route. If you live or work in the area, it could be yours, too.

Would you worry about being able to get home to your children or an elder who doesn’t drive? Does your child attend Union Hill School just up the road from this stretch? While there are alternate longer routes to use, we can easily imagine those traffic jams, too, in a wildfire disaster.

How about getting this state park/Highway 174 project in the queue for hazardous vegetation removal? This border of the state park is on an evacuation route. In its current state, it would serve as a perilous evacuation route indeed.

Again quoting the supervisors’ letter: “Given what occurred in the town of Paradise … We all have seen what happens when families are trapped on clogged roads engulfed in flames.”

The state park needs partners to get it done. Please ask your elected representative to champion this project.

Mary McClain lives in Grass Valley.

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