Jan 22, 2010

By Jonathan Partridge GIlroy Dispatch


A jury trial will begin Monday for a San Francisco real estate developer who is charged with damming Little Arthur Creek and poaching a threatened species of steelhead trout in 2007.

Luke Brugnara faces four counts of "taking" the trout and two counts of making a false statement in the course of an investigation after he was indicted by a federal grand jury in April 2008. He has pled not guilty to all charges. This is the first federal criminal case in the country charging an individual and corporation with the poaching of steelhead by blocking an upstream habitat. The federal government contends that Brugnara intentionally blocked the flow of Little Arthur Creek, an important watershed for steelhead, for at least three months between January and April 2007. Regulators say that the habitat above the dam is critical to the survival of the South-Central California Coast steelhead, which are found in Little Arthur Creek and are listed as threatened on the federal Endangered Species list.  

The charges against Brugnara come as a result of an investigation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the California Department of Fish and Game.  State and federal investigators said they found numerous trapped adult steelhead downstream of the dam that could not migrate upstream to a suitable spawning habitat. When a rescue team arrived to move the steelhead upstream, investigators said the steelhead were gone and they found evidence of poaching. 

The trial will begin at 9 a.m. Monday at the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California in San Francisco. It is expected to last five to seven days. Judge Maxine M. Chesney will preside over the trial.  

Flycasters, under the leadership of the Conservation Committee built a fishladder on this property many years ago to provide access for steelhead to this upstream watershed many years ago.  A short history of this project summarized by Marty Seldon follows.

Flycasters Little Arthur Creek Fish Ladder

Marty Seldon


After many years of surveying south bay fisheries the FFF and San Jose Flycasters located a high dam on the important Little Arthur Creek tributary of the Pajaro River in Gilroy that predated the 1924 California Water Code. There were no minimum flow requirements and the dam was silted in, completely blocking steelhead migration. Under the leadership of the late great Fred Houwink in the 1980’s we found that the very cooperative ranch owner, Edward Pickells, had attempted to build fishways in the canyon only to have them destroyed twice by flood-stage flows.  Mr. Pickells had a flash board portal in the dam that he opened in winter to flush out accumulated rubbish.


My involvement with the FFF turned me on to the potential of the Alaska Steep-Pass Fish Ladder.  DF&G engineers and biologists visited the site and were also enthusiastic.  Fred and our member-contractor Jerry Hensley used the data, surveyed the site, and then designed a four-section, forty foot long ladder system.  With agency participation and agreement, a formal proposal was later made to the CDF&G for Bosco-Keene funds that resulted in a grant of $31,500 for the project.


Then project was complex with a number of vendors, our contractor, and club volunteer labor.  500 tons of rip-rap rock were purchased and placed in the canyon to form a 40 foot ramp up to the portal of the dam. 10 foot above streambed.  Flycaster’s work teams muscled the rip-rap into a trough for the fishway sections that were fabricated in Gilroy.  Each section had a two-foot wide bottom and side sections with complex interior welded baffle plates.  Dozens of angle-iron straps braced the open top and hundreds of 1/2x1 inch bolts held them all together. The bulldozer and shovel crane used to handle the rip-rap were inadequate to handle the fishway and a 45-ton crane was brought in to lift the fishway and reach out 75 feet to lower it into the rip-rap trough.  A two-foot high concrete weir was built across the end of the ledge with openings for the fishway and a rubbish exhaust port.   The last construction phase of the project pumped 32 cubic yards of concrete to consolidate the rip-rap and tie it all together with reinforcing bars set in holes drilled in the sheer canyon wall.  CDF&G monitored all phases of construction and we passed every inspection with flying colors.


The bottom line is that this very successful project was able to open 15 miles of good steelhead habitat.  Unfortunately, the ranch was later sold and the current landowner, Brugnara, has been less than enthusiastic about even allowing access.  Our original project design included a subsequent modification that would replace the flash board dam with a large gate valve to eliminate the need the remove and replace the large timbers.  We had obtained participation from the Santa Clara County Flood Control and Water District to compete this last phase of the project but have been stymied by the lack of cooperation by the landowner.   We will be following the upcoming trial closely and hope to use this event to reopen the issue of replacing the flashboard dam.



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