Local News

Tuesday, Jul 23 2013 05:00 AM

Road improvements planned for Cummings Valley wineries

Access to two Tehachapi wineries could get a little easier -- but it may depend on whether or not their neighbors are willing to give up some of their property.

Currently, getting into and out of Souza Family Vineyards and Triassic Legacy Vineyards in Cummings Valley is by way of a pair of unpaved roads.

And while money for improving one road has already been secured, the other may need to be widened, which means some local landowners may be asked to dedicate or sell portions of their property so the federal funding will cover the project.

Heading the effort to secure that money is County Supervisor Zack Scrivner.

According to Scrivner, $375,000 in Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Funds has already been allocated to improve the 1.1-mile section of Cummings Valley Road from Bailey Road to west of Pelliser Road near Souza, but not the unpaved portion of Roost Road, leading to Triassic.

Scrivner said in order for that section of county-owned road to qualify for CMAQ funding, the road has to have at least 40 feet of right-of-way already dedicated -- something the Kern County Roads Dept. is currently analyzing.

But what if the road isn't wide enough?

In that case, Scrivner said the county will need to look into other funding options, which includes various grants, as well as discussing with property owners the possibility of surrendering or selling part of their property to allow the road to be widened.

"If we purchase the property, we will be required to follow all federal rules for land acquisition, as we will ultimately use federal CMAQ funding for construction under that scenario," said Scrivner, who noted that the county is not interested in considering eminent domain in this case.

The CMAQ program provides federal funding for transportation projects and programs that help meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act passed by Congress in 1990.

Funds are directed toward projects, programs and operational strategies that provide residents with transportation options to make the most effective use of existing infrastructure and lead to lower pollution levels and a reduction in dust.

Scrivner said the same CMAQ funds are being used to pay for the shoulder paving that is currently underway on Highline Road from Tehachapi-Willow Springs to Banducci roads.

"The upgrading of the roads in Cummings Valley will improve access to the wineries and improve safety, which is an additional benefit that will only improve their viability," Scrivner said. "But it's important to note that the main purpose of paving those roads is to cut down on dust, improving the area's air quality."

Triassic owner Chuck McCollough agreed, and said improving the roads would not only result in a huge increase in his business, but said he felt that it would also be beneficial to the winery's neighbors, who have complained about dust -- a problem that Triassic is currently tasked with combating.

As required by its conditional use permit, the winery is responsible to mitigate the dust on Roost Road with watering or some type of surfacing.

And while the county is yet to determine how it should proceed with the upgrades to Roost Road, Scrivner said he expects to the Cummings Valley Road improvements to be fully funded and out to bid before the end of this year.

"This is ultimately a good project to pave these roads," Scrivner said. "We feel the wineries are an important part of Tehachapi's agri-tourism, and we want to support them."

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