Pipeline trespassers get early warning

Hundreds of county homeowners will be asked to relocate sheds, pull down fences and uproot gardens on San Francisco Public Utilities Commission property starting next week as the agency prepares to retrofit the Bay Area’s water supply system.

Over the years, about 290 residents have encroached on land over the commission’s pipeline — which crosses the San Francisco Bay near the Dumbarton Bridge, makes its way through neighborhoods and parks to the Crystal Springs Reservoir, then to The City. They have turned the land on the edge of their property into green space, a place for boat storage or any number of other uses over the years, according to the commission.

“We’re trying to start this process early on to work with the residents so that they don’t have to act as the bulldozers are pulling up,” said Julie Labonte, director of water system improvement for the commission.

While construction won’t begin on any of the 16 water system projects scheduled for San Mateo County until summer 2008, notices are scheduled to begin arriving in residents’ mailboxes next week.

Some of the 290 encroachments are legal; the majority, however, are a result of residents laying claim to land behind their homes where buried water lines carry thousands of gallons of water, said Laura Spanjian, spokeswoman for the commission.

Work on the $4.3 billion seismic retrofit was approved by San Francisco voters in 2002 and includes 70 projects crossing seven counties, according to Labonte. The 70-year-old Hetch Hetchy Water System delivers water to 2.4 million Bay Area residents, including practically all of San Mateo County. The system’s 280 miles of pipeline cut across three major earthquake fault lines, Labonte said.

“We have to replace these aging pipelines,” commission spokesman Tony Winnicker said.

At least one group of residents, whose property abuts the commission’s land in the hills above San Mateo, worries that construction could disrupt their neighborhood.

“We’re concerned about the noise from the three-yearproject,” said Darlene Harms, a San Mateo Oaks Homeowners Association member and Ascension Drive resident. Her property backs up to where blasting and drilling are likely to occur, and heavy machinery and diesel trucks could operate, Harms said.

Responding to residents’ concerns that the commission has opted for a complete environmental review of the portion of the project near Harms’ home, called the Crystal Springs Bypass Tunnel, Labonte said. The review means a one-year delay from the original 2007 groundbreaking. At this point, however, the project can be completed by the 2014 timetable and within budget, Labonte said Tuesday.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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