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D Street bridge closure cuts access to Petaluma’s Turning Basin


The D Street drawbridge over the Petaluma River is stuck in the down position, city officials said. The mechanical failure, which could take weeks to fix, is impacting pleasure boats, tourism and construction on a boathouse in the downtown Turning Basin.

The problem was discovered Sept. 22 when the component that controls the bridge’s motor began to fail as the span was being lowered, requiring the emergency brake to engage, said Larry Zimmer, the city’s deputy public works director. Zimmer said the city sent the electronic part to a manufacturer for an estimate and will decide whether to repair or replace the piece.

“Right now we’re looking at which solution will be faster,” he said. “Our priority is getting the bridge up and running.”

The D Street bridge is the aquatic gateway to Petaluma’s downtown Turning Basin, where visiting sailors often dock at the Petaluma Yacht Club. Boaters in vessels with masts are unable to pass when the bridge is down and must request the city to raise the bridge.

The broken bridge has forced the Petaluma Small Craft Center to postpone its boathouse construction project for nearly a year, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of dollars, according to Greg Sabourin, the group’s executive director. The nonprofit plans to build a floating office on the docks near Taps, where people can rent kayaks and other small watercraft.

They had planned to launch the construction Sept. 25 with pile driving from a barge in the river, but the city that morning notified the organization that the bridge would need to stay shut for the next several weeks. The barge, moored just south of the bridge at the Lind Marine yard, was unable to reach the Turning Basin and was forced to go back to its home port on the Sacramento River, Sabourin said.

“It’s rather unfortunate timing,” he said. “Obviously this is a setback.”

Sabourin said his group still had to pay the contractor for his time and for the pile driver rental, costs that amount to $30,000. State environmental regulators allow large construction work in sensitive river habitats from July to September, and the Turning Basin project was scheduled to just catch the end of this window. Now, Sabourin said, they must wait until next July to do the work.

Additionally, he had recruited dozens of volunteers from the local rowing community to help move the 500-pound pilings and dock sections into place, and now must move them back to the warehouse on Weller Street.

“The loss of money is serious, but it’s something we can recover from,” he said. “What hurts me the most is when I think about all of the volunteer hours that went into this effort.”

The bridge closure is also impacting operations at the Petaluma Yacht Club, according to Commodore Ted Adams. Several boats had planned to cruise into the Turning Basin last weekend but had to cancel, he said. The yacht club has already taken a financial hit due to the lack of dredging creating a shallower-than-normal river, which has scared off out-of-town boaters, Adams said.

He said he hoped the city would quickly repair the bridge and reopen the Turning Basin to boats.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. “We’ll just let them repair is as fast as they can and not get in their way.”

The D Street bridge was built in 1933. Zimmer said the electronic component that failed was installed in 2000 and had reached the end of its lifespan. He said repairing it would cost up to $5,000 while replacing it with a new one would be $15,000.

The bridge should be fixed within three to four weeks, Zimmer said, in plenty of time for long standing Petaluma holiday traditions like the Lighted Boat Parade and Santa’s arrival by boat in the Turning Basin.

“We’re consulting an expert and looking at a long-term fix,” he said. “We want to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

To help overcome his disappointment, Sabourin said he went for a row on the river on the day that the pile driving barge was leaving, having come a few hundred feet from the project site only to be turned back by the broken bridge. He noted the name written on the back of the barge: the “Rough Break.”

“It was just a bridge too far,” he said.

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)