Locals and elected officials raise concerns during DWR's community meeting


OROVILLE, Calif. - A community meeting at the Oroville Municipal Auditorium opened with Butte County Chairman Bill Connelly telling the crowd of 200 or so not to hold anything back when addressing the Department of Water Resources.

They didn't.

"We don't trust you, I do not trust you," said Hellen Dennis, an Oroville resident, speaking to representatives of the DWR. "You say those are hairline cracks? I know what happens to hairline cracks. They get bigger and they get bigger and the concrete gets weaker and then phew, we're flooded again."

It was the biggest question from locals. What's to make of those reported hairline cracks?

The DWR reiterated several times, the cracks pose no threat to the spillway.

"We are being proactive in doing mapping and monitoring of those cracks, so that we can observe if anything happens to change," explained Jeanne Kuttle, California Department of Water Resources' chief engineer. "We don't expect that."

The next biggest concern came when residents would be able to have access to the dam's recreation. They wanted the closed roads and trails near the spillway reopened sooner than later, but DWR said for now, the construction makes that unsafe. Staff has not decided when those roads and trails can reopen.

"You're a multimillion dollar organization," said another frustrated Oroville resident. "We're spending, what? Half a billion dollars on this reconstruction? And every four months we're asking the exact same questions. That's unacceptable."

Assemblyman James Gallagher was there to ensure DWR includes these constituents and their opinions in all of the infrastructure improvements of the dam.

"And so that's what I was insisting on tonight and I'm not going to ask, we're gonna demand it," Gallagher said. "We need to have that input in that process."

State Senator Jim Nielsen was also in attendance and had much the same focus.

"That's critically important," Nielsen said. "It's not simply stabilizing or fixing the problem right now, but it's sustaining it for the long term."

Oroville Mayor Linda Dahlmeier was unable to make it to the community meeting, but earlier Wednesday she urged the DWR to be better with it's communication with her town. She suggested hiring a full-time communications director that would give simplified updates and explanations about the integrity of the dam and the spillway.

"[They would] pull the documents out. Have [locals] look at them one at a time," Dahlmeier said. "Have them, the community, digest their questions and go home and then come back and say you brought this up I want to look at that again until they have a different opinion, possibly of the past 60 years."

At the end of the meeting, DWR staff said they're doing their absolute best to be transparent, with the best interest of Oroville surrounding areas at heart.

"I understand the distrust of government, but from the inside, I'm seeing everything that the department is doing," explained Erin Mellon, Assistant Director, Department of Water Resources, Public Affairs. "We are providing all of that information and doing what we can to figure out what happened here in February and make sure that it doesn't ever happen again."

The DWR encouraged the locals with follow up questions to reach out to them directly. They also added that an entire needs assessment of all of the Oroville Dam will be completed in 2019.