City Council, public respond to St. Francis Dam-related bill heading to president

Dan Watson Community Hiking Club Executive Director Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel points to the remaining piece of the St. Francis Dam as she hiked above the site in March 2015. 030615

Soon after Congress passed a bill Tuesday proposing the creation of four new national monuments, including one for the St. Francis Dam disaster site, the Santa Clarita City Council and members of the public applauded the bill’s passage.

During their regular meeting that evening, council members voted unanimously to support three pieces of legislation, S. 47, S. 129 and H.R. 1015, that would establish a national memorial and national monument to commemorate the victims of the dam collapse.

“I am pleased to share with my City Council colleagues and the community that, earlier today, the House of Representatives passed S. 47, the omnibus public lands bill,” said Councilwoman Laurene Weste.

The Natural Resources Management Act, or S. 47, supported by Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, who introduced companion bill H.R. 1015, was passed by the House by a vote of 363 to 62 after being approved by the Senate on Feb. 12 by a vote of 92 to 8. The bill will now head to President Donald Trump to be signed into law, which is expected.

“The timing could not be more perfect, as March 12 of this year will mark the 91st anniversary of the St. Francis Dam disaster,” said Weste. “The next step is to communicate our support for S. 47 to the president so that he will sign it into law.”

Hill said in a tweet Tuesday evening, “The #SCV community have been active advocates for this memorial — I’m so proud that in the 116th Congress we were able to deliver.”

While some members of the public shared their support, not everyone agreed with the council’s stance.

Resident Steve Petzold said, “I believe that if we really want to commemorate and memorialize the St. Francis Dam disaster, there’s a way that the city itself can do it.” He suggested locations such as the San Francisquito open space area or downtown Newhall to place a plaque.

On March 12, 1928, the dam collapsed in San Francisquito Canyon and the resulting flood waters claimed the lives of more than 400 civilians between the dam site and the Pacific Ocean. It is considered to be the worst civil engineering disaster of the 20th century in the United States.

“This tragedy, while it took over 400 people’s lives in our valley, changed the way dams are built around the world,” said Weste.

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