Congress passes public lands bill proposing St. Francis Dam site memorial

The United States Sentate approved a bill that includes designating the Saint Francis Dam site in San Francisquito Canyon. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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A public lands bill proposing the creation of four new national monuments, including one for the St. Francis Dam site in San Francisquito Canyon, passed Congress Tuesday and is heading to President Donald Trump’s desk for a signature.

The Natural Resources Management Act, or S. 47, is comprised of more than 100 separate bills and requests the revival of a popular conservation program, an additional 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, the expansion of multiple national parks and four national monuments.

The bill is a companion bill to the first piece of legislation that Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, introduced into the 116th Congress earlier this month.

Hill said she was grateful in a news release on Tuesday for being allowed to partake in the establishment of a memorial and national monument for the 1928 disaster.

“The St. Francis Dam Disaster took place 10 miles north of my hometown of Santa Clarita and this memorial has been a priority for my community for many years. I’m proud that in the 116th Congress we will finally be able to amplify the stories of the tragedy and provide a constant reminder of how critical infrastructure is to the safety and security of our communities,” Hill said in the release. “I am thankful to my neighbor, Congresswoman Julia Brownley for her leadership on this issue and for our Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein for their support in the Senate.”

As she read a statement of support for S. 47 from the House floor on Tuesday, Hill said the bill also contains a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which she called an important priority for the constituents of the 25th Congressional District.

Former Rep. Steve Knight, who passed a similar version of the bill through the House three times when he was in office, said earlier this month that he wasn’t surprised to see the bill find success.

“When we left last year, we put everything in motion so it’d pass this year,” he said. “We dealt with Sen. (Dianne) Feinstein and Sen. (Kamala) Harris quite extensively, so we knew it was going in the right direction. We’re very happy. It’s something that was deserved for the community.”

The St. Francis Dam is notorious for a disastrous flood that killed more than 400 people, caused millions of dollars in damage and destroyed homes, ranches and many other properties that were in the path of the floodwaters between San Francisquito Canyon and the Pacific Ocean.

The dam’s collapse is considered one of the worst civil engineering failures of the 20th Century and is the second deadliest tragedy in California’s history.

Following a signature from President Trump, the secretary of agriculture will have no longer than three years from the the date of the bill’s enactment to submit recommendations to Congress regarding: “the planning, design, construction and long-term management of the memorial; the proposed boundaries of the memorial; a visitor center and educational facilities at the memorial; and ensuring public access to the memorial,” according to the bill’s text.

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Community Hiking Club, previously said she is excited for the legislation and has already began forming the prospective plans for a memorial and visitor center.

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