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Waterfalls' Restoration Is Planned

September 06, 2003|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Too bad Thaddeus Lowe is not around to cast a little light on Rubio Canyon's problems. After all, his 6-million-candlepower searchlight was believed to be one of the world's brightest a century ago when it was perched on a mountaintop above the rugged Altadena gorge.

The scenic canyon with seven waterfalls bearing names like Roaring Rift and Grand Chasm was a focal point of hotels, restaurants and a 3 1/2-mile narrow-gauge railroad to Mt. Lowe -- one of the world's grand tourist attractions in 1895.

Fires, floods and windstorms had destroyed Lowe's hotels, trestles and mountain lookout by the 1940s. But it took a 1998 construction mishap to wipe out the waterfalls that he so loved.

Workers making earthquake repairs to a rickety pipeline that supplies mountain-fed drinking water to 200 customers of the Rubio Canon Land and Water Assn. triggered landslides that buried six of the waterfalls beneath an estimated 50,000 tons of boulders.

Since then, U.S. Forest Service officials in charge of the canyon have been buried with an avalanche of suggestions as to how to dig Rubio Canyon out of its mess and restore the waterfalls.

The use of helicopters, conveyer belts, human-chain hand crews, mule trains and even a Thaddeus Lowe-style narrow-gauge train to haul out boulders were proposed.

Angeles National Forest administrators said Thursday that they had decided to remove the estimated 35,000 cubic yards of debris using dump trucks and a temporary road.

But on Friday it seemed clear that cleanup plan could face a rocky road.

The Forest Service said it had only half of the $2 million the project would probably cost.

And property owners at the mouth of the canyon would have to agree to let 3,500 truckloads of boulders be driven across their land before any work could start.

No land surveys have yet been done for the temporary road's route. But one of the downstream property owners is the Rubio Canon Land and Water Assn.

"The Forest Service has made it clear that they expect Rubio Canon to pay, that they're on the hook" for the cleanup costs, said Paul Ayers, an attorney and avid hiker who has pressed for canyon restoration.

"But Rubio Canon has never taken responsibility for what happened up there," he added.

Ayers said the nonprofit water company might try to avoid helping finance the project by refusing to grant an easement for dump trucks to pass over its property, by appealing the cleanup proposal itself or by suing the federal government.

Water association board President Janet Fahey said Friday that it could be a few weeks before her organization decided its stance. In the past the association has disputed the Forest Service contention that it is to blame for the landslides.

"The Forest Service proposal and cost estimate in the environmental document are conceptual; there are a number of specific engineering and construction details yet to be developed that affect project feasibility and cost," she said.

Whatever the outcome, it will be a while before the waterfalls that Lowe loved and showed off to millions of tourists cascade once more.

Forest Service spokeswoman Kathy Peterson said that if everything went smoothly, it would probably be October 2005 before the waterfalls again saw the light of day -- or anything else.

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