The challenge of keeping up Alpine County's infrastructure

The roads we drive on, the community water systems, and the facilities that protect us from fire and flood are part of the county's infrastructure that is overseen by Director of Public Works Dennis Cardoza.

Relatively new to Alpine County, Cardoza took over the department reins on Nov. 16, 2005, following the retirement of Leonard Turnbeaugh who had been the director for more than 21 years.

I asked Cardoza how he happened to come to Alpine County and he replied that he was at a workshop, also attended by two people from the Alpine County administration, who urged him to apply for the position. At the time he was working in Mammoth Lakes in Mono County on their proposed airport but there were legal and environmental issues, the project was going nowhere, and he decided to apply to Alpine.

When I asked what his responsibilities were his reply was akin to opening a floodgate; maintaining the roads, the snow plowing, flood protection, monitoring building and other projects, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the bus service. These were only among the major ones.

The roads are his primary responsibility, something that residents are immediately aware of, especially during the winter months, and in the spring when the snow melt raises the danger of flooding. The road crew remains on call when snow is predicted and its members put in many hours, including much overtime to keep the roads clear.

I used to live in Illinois and you don't want to know what poor winter maintenance is like. In the spring the road crew removes debris from the culverts to avoid flooding.

The department's responsibilities are countywide and include Bear Valley and Kirkwood, and even Blue Lakes where there are five full-time year-round residents.

In Bear Valley, trails are groomed so homeowners can get out on their snowmobiles, while Kirkwood maintains its own roads. At Blue Lakes, Alpine County contracts with the state forest department to clear a section of snow for the residents' parking.

Road work is year round and includes contracting out for paving, as well as maintaining dirt roads such as Poor Boy, Burnside and those at Highland Lakes and Leviathan Mine. And public works activities go beyond the county, through Alpine's participation in the Tri-County transportation arrangement with Amador and Calaveras, the department negotiated with them for state funds for major projects that also benefit Alpine.

A major undertaking is monitoring construction contracts, such as the relay tower on Hawkins Peak and the water tanks for fire suppression. Public works' engineering department oversees the development of a new real estate property that will provide property taxes and temporary occupancy taxes. The department is also involved in the placing of electric lines underground in Markleeville.

Public works is paving the walkways at the county museum and making its buildings ADA compliant. Because of delays, it is critical that the work be completed by April 1 when the grant will run out.

Cardoza emphasized the importance of planning, pointing out that Alpine's road system and subdivision standards are 30 years old. Yet change is often controversial as, for example, possible development of the county airport.

He feels it is important to involve the citizens when there are major proposals.

"I believe very strongly about the necessity for their participation," he stated, adding that it's well worth the extra work and time required to set up the community workshops.

Cardoza's background includes six years in the United States Air Force as an instructor of pilots, and he was also deployed to NATO to help solve problems of integrating the equipment of the different countries' military forces.

He and his wife Susan live in Mesa Vista in Woodfords, and they have two grown sons in Orange County. Both work as guards, reflecting the family's military history.

The last two questions I posed to Cardoza were his satisfaction in the job and his concerns. To the first he replied, "I'm very happy with the enthusiasm and high morale of the hard working people in public works, including the road crew and those who work in the office." He added that he is very satisfied with the detailed and tight accounting system that has been set up.

As to his concerns, he said he is very worried about a possible decrease in funding for the public works department as well as for the county.

Learning of his rigorous work schedule I would add a likely additional concern - that there are only 24 hours in the day.


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