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VIPs lobbied to help replace Pfeiffer bridge


Published: March 13, 2009

TIRED OF waiting around for the state to free up money so a vital bridge at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park can be installed, nearby resident Jack Ellwanger is petitioning local politicians for help.

In December, financing was frozen for about 5,600 infrastructure projects around the state, including plans to install a new bridge at the entrance to the Big Sur park.

Though it was believed money to pay for the bridge would be freed up when the state finally passed a budget in February, the park is still bridge-less and remains closed, threatening the summer tourist season.

“We need your help,” Ellwanger wrote in a letter this week to state Sen. Abel Maldonado. “The business loss here has been terrible, and it will get worse.”

The Big Sur tourism industry was hit hard last summer when three separate wildfires burned about a quarter-million acres and closed off much of the area to visitors. With no bridge to allow access to Pfeiffer park, this summer could be another major setback for businesses.

“This community has really been traumatized by this whole situation,” Ellwanger said. “It’s like a double or triple whammy.”

The park’s campground is by far the most popular in Big Sur and offers the most campsites.

The bridge was removed last fall after studies showed it could be undermined by potential mudslides caused by erosion from last summer’s devastating Big Sur fires.

Until a new bridge is installed, Big Sur stores, restaurants and hotels won’t see the thousands of tourists who visit the park every summer and spend their money.

Ellwanger has already gotten help from former state Sen. Dan McCorquodale of San Jose, who spoke to state Treasurer Bill Lockyer about the park’s access issue.

“Bill Lockyer supports our project,” Ellwanger said.

Lockyer is one of three voting members of the state’s Pooled Money Investment Board, which on March 18 will discuss the status of the projects throughout the state that were halted because of the budget problem.

But even if the state investment board votes to approve funding to allow for the new bridge to be installed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could prevent the funds from being released.

And even if funds were released right away, it’s not known whether the bridge could be manufactured and installed by Memorial Day, the start of the busy summer season.

With the popular park closed, “the loss of revenue to the state has been enormous,” Ellwanger wrote to Maldonado. “And, because the park is a major magnet for other business in this coastal area, the negative effect on everyone else has been prodigious.” 

Kathleen Lee, an aide to Monterey County 5th District Supervisor Dave Potter, said Potter’s office is very “concerned because Pfeiffer is a critical attraction for the entire tourism economy of Big Sur.”

Ellwanger has also written 27th District Assemblyman Bill Monning for his help, and former assemblymen Fred Keeley and John Laird for their advice.

Ellwanger said he’s also going to contact Schwarzenegger’s office to reiterate the importance of the park’s bridge.

U.S. Rep. Sam Farr has not gotten involved in the issue and is waiting for the state to decide the park’s fate.

“Congress passed the economic recovery bill this year, which sends a lot of construction funds to California and potentially frees up more money,” said Tom Mentzer, Farr’s spokesman. “Congressman Farr hopes the state uses those funds on Pfeiffer, but that decision will come from the state.”

The Pfeiffer park campground has 200 sites, with a combined day use and camper population of approximately 1,000 people per day during the summer season.