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January 20, 2010 > Preserving nature and history

Preserving nature and history

By Dustin Findley

There are two historic buildings in Jose Higuera Park - Higuera adobe and a wooden house that used to be a casino. Calera Creek runs along side the casino and a willow tree stands proud in the stream's bed.

Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Commission Chair Steve Munzel was concerned the creek might break its banks and flood the casino. He brought this to the attention of Milpitas Principal Engineer Fernando Bravo.

It appears the tree has been in situ for some time, well-adapted to the environment and upright. Munzel believes it has toppled within the last few years. He points to new growth and the change in direction in which the branches have grown. Bravo does not know when the tree toppled but it is now established in the creek.

The casino, one of the oldest buildings owned by the City, dates from the 1800s.It is closed to the public.

Bravo contacted the Santa Clara Valley Water District to evaluate the situation. "The tree is right in the middle of the stream, so we just can't uproot it," said Bravo. Engineers must contend with environmental issues and permits from the Army Corp of Engineers, Department of Fish and Game and other environmental agencies that have jurisdiction over work within a creek bed. The Water District, a flood control agency, has all the permits for the necessary maintenance but has no jurisdiction to maintain Calera Creek.

According to Bravo, there are no records of any major flood damage, to date. The Jose Higuera building is not in immediate danger. "The channel has re-aligned itself to provide some additional flow capacity, so there is a re-established channel flow that's occurred naturally, so there is some flood relief," stated Bravo.

Bravo is working with the Water District to establish an easement for maintenance. The aim is to clean the creek adjacent to the casino and downstream.

There are many riparian plants in the area. Bravo stated the need to conserve the habitat of any endangered species before work begins.

Don Caruso, Park Maintenance, recalls the lodge was occupied by a caretaker, but has been vacant for at least four, perhaps, eight years. Heavy flooding occurred in 1984 and everyone and everything had to be evacuated from the building.

"That tree's been like that since I've worked here and I've been here for over 25 years," said Caruso who removed one of the tree's limbs during maintenance. Caruso explained that the casino used to be a bar and place for gambling with a brothel on top. Years ago many antique bottles were found in the area.

The City will place sand bags immediately adjacent to the building just in case of flooding. Long-term solutions will consider affected vegetation and re-establishing the channel.

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