New river crossing rises at Camp Roberts

A construction crew works on the new steel bridge at Camp Roberts last month. The new bridge replaces one that was damaged by floodwaters.
A construction crew works on the new steel bridge at Camp Roberts last month. The new bridge replaces one that was damaged by floodwaters. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

On a recent winter afternoon, Col. Walter Goodwater’s boots crunched over rocks as he balanced on a near-crumbling 20th century Nacimiento River crossing on Camp Roberts.

“Basically, the water forced its way through,” he said, pointing to a large gap visible atop a three-pipe culvert that troops and tanks have used for decades on the western part of the camp.

Next to him, a construction crew directed large steel beams and bracings to form a panel bridge with the help of a crane towering above.

Goodwater, a California National Guard facilities engineer, managed the construction of the new bridge after the Nacimiento Lake spill this past spring washed out the old passage. The new bridge was completed in late December.

From what Goodwater can gather, the reservoir’s flood shoved all the dirt, soil and concrete from the culvert’s core to its side, leaving it hollow but still standing.

“From an engineering perspective, we don’t know why it didn’t collapse,” he said.

Photos taken from aerial drones used in a British training exercise that spring day captured images from the flood after the spill.

They showed that the river had swollen to the top of the culvert, fanning around it on both sides. In those photos, it’s hardly noticeable that the approximately 150-foot-long crossing was even there.

“It isn’t salvageable,” Goodwater said of what remained.

The crossing is about 100 years old, officials say. But the pathway leading up to it dates back even farther, with origins linked to the original El Camino Real connecting California’s 21 missions.The passage through Camp Roberts heads to Mission San Antonio de Padua, which is in Monterey County.

Instead of waiting several years to acquire the environmental permits to clear out the damage and rebuild, the National Guard did an interesting thing: It built a new steel bridge over the old culvert, which required less paperwork.

Time was an issue for the post because troops needed to cross the river to reach their live firing ranges without having to leave the camp and travel on Highway 101.

The damage will still be cleared, though. Once the state and federal permits are acquired, Goodwater and others can temporarily block the river, clear out the old culvert, remove the blockage and return the river to its natural flowing state under the new bridge.

The costs of the new bridge and culvert clearing projects weren’t immediately available.