The Nacimiento Water Project pipeline has long been paved over, but the workers who died during its construction have not been forgotten.
On Tuesday, the public will finally see where San Luis Obispo County is in the process of creating a permanent bronze and stone memorial for the three men who died in 2008 and 2009. The Paso Robles City Council is scheduled to determine where it will stand within the city.
Various mementos honoring two of the men have been placed at a makeshift memorial nestled in the dry grass at Niblick and South River roads. Two American flags attached to small white crosses pay tribute to Jacob Gaines, 24, of Bakersfield and Manuel Villagomez, 38, of Elk Grove, who drowned in the pipeline just below the site’s surface in October 2008.
The men died after an excavator hit a water line and the pipe where they were working flooded.
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The new plaque will also honor a third victim, Timothy Nelson, 29, of Ojai, who was run over by a work truck at the Camp Roberts segment of the pipeline a year later.
For the past several years, the county has worked with pipeline contractor Teichert Construction of Sacramento and the victims’ families to create a permanent memorial.
The city released plans last week showing a bronze plaque has been created that displays three eulogies written by each victim’s family. One possible location for the memorial is along the city’s River Walk path at the southwest corner of 13th Street and River Road, an area just north of where Gaines and Villagomez drowned.
Following the county Nacimiento Commission’s vote to allocate $20,000 in reserve funds to a permanent memorial in 2008, Teichert Construction agreed to cover all expenses in design and construction. A final estimate of the memorial costs was not immediately available, but no cost was listed for the city.
In the eulogies, the victims’ families expressed the loss they’ve felt. Gaines’ family members wrote about how proud he was to be working on a project that would bring new water to the county. They touched on how his death left a hole in their hearts as they remember his zest for life.
The family of Villagomez — who list a different name of Manuelo Arriaga on the plaque — wrote a note directly to him, saying although they can’t see him, they know he’s always there.
Nelson’s family described him as a loving father whose smiles and jokes will be forever missed.
They said he was loyal, loved being a deep-sea fisherman and was “a kind friend to many.”