EL MONTE, Calif. — The Army Corps of Engineers is set to begin removing built up sediment blocking a levee in the San Gabriel River, but some neighbors are fighting to stop the project because they said it will also remove one of the only places with water, green trees and other wildlife in the area.
The people, like Emily Velasco, who frequent this part of the San Gabriel River Trail said there is not really anything else like this around.
Her wall of trinkets-turned-art-pieces is one of the only things that helped Velasco get through the pandemic. She has made it a hobby, transforming junk yard finds, like a car pressure reader, into a retro video player.
"[It plays] relaxing things that you can sit and watch because last summer was a really anxious time for a lot of people, including me. It was a weird time. And so I wanted to, sort of, encapsulate like the idea of a thing to relax you in a little box," Velasco explained.
The only other thing that relaxed Velasco during this time was riding her electronic scooter and bike to the San Gabriel Valley River Trail.
She fell in love with the serenity, which is why Emily was shocked to see a public notice posted by the Army Corps of Engineers, announcing plans to remove the vegetation and sediment in the 11-acre triangle.
"Once I read it, I saw that all that land over there with all those trees, they’re gonna take it all out and they’re just gonna turn it back into these rocks like this and I don’t know, that’s really upsetting because this is one of the nicest spots of the river. A lot of the river is just concrete," she said.
The Army Corps of Engineers said it has to be done. The only reason water has built up in this area is because the levee underneath has been so severely degraded that the water can no longer flow through the channel.
They said if the levee breaks, this poses a serious flood risk to 20,000 people who live in South El Monte and Pico Rivera.
Emily said she understands the flood risk, but thinks there has to be another way to preserve one of the only areas along the river that hasn’t dried up and has green trees, heron and other wildlife.
"This area has been here for 40 years and we haven’t had flooding here for 40 years," she said.
In fact, quite the opposite. With California in a severe drought, locals said this is one of the only places they can come to fish in the San Gabriel Valley.
Army Corps staff said they will have to re-direct the water while the six year project is underway, but they do plan to replace it after.
Pablo Tellez grew up fishing here with his younger siblings and said he’s angry he had to hear of this pending project from Emily. He saw the project notice posted, but says it has few details.
"This community, it’s a very Hispanic community," Tellez explained. "There’s not a lot of places to go, for the children to go, so even people bringing their children to fish or to the river to be on their scooters, that in itself is huge for the community.”
Emily said she had to do something and rode home to start a petition to try to stop the Army Corps before they start the project in October.
“I feel like there has to be some other option besides bulldoze everything," she said.
But at this rate, the Army Corps says it's still planning to move forward on the project, repairing the levee that could otherwise be catastrophic if left as is.
For more information about the project, or to voice any concerns, you can send a note to the Army Corps of Engineers at splops@usace.Army.Mil.