Work to begin on Petaluma floathouse

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Next month, a floating pile-driver will begin hammering thick fiberglass posts into the pea soup sludge at the bottom of the Petaluma River’s Turning Basin, creating a din that will be music to Greg Sabourin’s ears.

The work, which will take place over four days starting Sept. 10, will mark the beginning of the first phase of a long envisioned plan to build a floating public boathouse, providing a downtown river access point to get people enthused about boating.

Sabourin, the executive director of the Petaluma Small Craft Center, said he has been working on the floathouse project since late 2010.

“It will be fantastic to actually have pilings driven,” he said. “Hopefully for the community it will be a real sign of progress. We’ve been working on it for a long time.”

The $1 million project has been fraught with complications. River advocates first needed complicated permits from assorted governmental agencies. Fundraising has been a challenge, and indeed is still not complete. And a malfunctioning D Street drawbridge last year on the day before pile driving was to begin prevented the barge from accessing the Turning Basin, setting back the start by a year.

On top of that, the lack of dredging on the Petaluma River means that the planned floathouse would sit in the mud most of the time, so a lighter tent structure has been proposed until the dredging project takes place.

“Nobody expected in 2010 that in 2018 we would still be taking about dredging,” Sabourin said. “Everybody thought we’d be dredged by now.”

After the seven piles are driven next month, the next step will be adding 170 feet of floating dock, Sabourin said. That should take place in spring in time to open next summer. The next phase will add a restroom on shore at Cavanagh Landing Park along the north end of the Turning Basin.

Once the floathouse is open, Sabourin said they will rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, small sail boats and other watercraft, and will attract tourists to downtown Petaluma.

“The Petaluma River is one of the best venues for human-powered boating in the country,” he said. “It’s just a jewel, but sadly it is lacking in access.”

Sabourin pointed out that several Petaluma clubs have produced nationally recognized rowers and paddlers. He said a public dock that will let people try out various watercraft will spur interest in the sport.

The Petaluma Small Craft Center has raised about $250,000 to date, Sabourin said, or only about a quarter of the funds they will need to complete the project. After pile driving is complete, the center will launch a capital campaign to raise the additional funds, he said.

After the floathouse is realized, the next project is a community boathouse on the river a the Riverfront development near the Highway 101 bridge.

“Development in Petaluma is turning back toward the river,” Sabourin said. “We’re putting Petaluma on the map.”

(Contact Matt Brown at

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