Forest Service fire station construction paves way for Isabella Dam improvements

An official ground-breaking for a new National Forest Service fire station near Lake Isabella marks the "kick off" of the construction phase for improvements to the dams on Isabella Lake. The existing fire station and visitor information center sit near one end of the main dam, and that site is needed for the safety modification project.

So, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have new facilities built for the Forest Service at 7158 Lake Isabella Blvd.

"It's a perfect location for us to respond to a number of different incidents," Forest Service District Ranger Al Watson told Eyewitness News on Wednesday.

At the ground-breaking ceremony, drawings showed how the new facility will look. That site will house an interim visitor information center, the ranger said.

"It is temporarily going to be here so that it serves a function as a visitor center until we figure out, between our other partners, what's going to be happening with maybe another proposed site," Watson said.

He said that office will provide information for the public, and things like permits.

The Corps of Engineers has been designing changes to the two earthen dams, after determining in 2006 that they were among their most at-risk dams.

Their plans now call for enlarging the spillway, and the two existing Forest Service facilities are in a site needed for that improvement.

"Where they currently are, is actually going to be an extension of a new spillway, which will allow the dams to pass a greater amount of water at a point in time that is needed there, in part of our flood risk reduction," Corps Col. David Ray told Eyewitness News.

The project will also make both dams higher. Engineers had determined the existing spillway was too small, they found newly identified earthquake faults in the area, and issues with seepage of water through the dams.

The dams were completed in 1953, and reduce the flood risk for Bakersfield and the surrounding area.

At Wednesday's ground-breaking for the new Forest Service facilities, local Chamber of Commerce officials said they are excited to see progress on the dam improvement project, saying it will be good for the economy of the area.

The new fire station building will cost $7.8 million, and that's being paid for by the Corps of Engineers. The fire station and visitor information center are set to be completed by this fall.

Col. Ray said moving the Forest Service buildings to the new site is important to allow the next stages in the dam safety modification project to happen.

"Our No.1 priority is commitment to public safety," Ray said. But, he said it's also a top concern to do that with as little disruption as possible to the community and the recreation opportunities in the National Forest and surrounding areas.

"And, we leave the local community better than we found it," he said.

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