Shedding Light on Problems Along Highway 96

Rod Mendes, director of the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s Office of Emergency Services said that over the next few weeks 14 streetlights will be repaired to improve safety in and around Downtown Hoopa. A concurrent project will improve lighting near local business to deter crime./Photo by Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune

Rod Mendes, director of the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s Office of Emergency Services said that over the next few weeks 14 streetlights will be repaired to improve safety in and around Downtown Hoopa. A concurrent project will improve lighting near local business to deter crime./Photo by Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune

By RHONDA BIGOVICH, Two Rivers Tribune

The Hoopa Valley Tribe (HVT) is currently working on two separate projects to shed some light on pedestrians who are often unseen walking at night on Highway 96, or on unlit back-streets, turnout encroachments, and tribal building parking areas.

A grand total of 14 lights will be installed along the highway and scattered throughout downtown business areas, lighting up parking lots and buildings. Hoopa residents will soon see more lighting in front of Ray’s Food Place, Lucky Bear Casino (LBC), and the Hoopa Tribal Museum. There will also be 12 speed bumps placed strategically throughout this parking lot.

In an article in the November 25 issue of the Two Rivers Tribune, ‘Deadly Roads’ disclosed statistics and data about hit-and-run accidents in the local communities. Safety concerns intensified in council chambers after Amber Brock, a resident of Willow Creek, was struck by a vehicle on October 29.

Councilwoman for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, Danielle Vigil-Masten, and Vice-chairwoman Wendy ‘Poppy’ George, acted quickly, giving separate initiatives to tribal departments to increase attention for public safety of pedestrians and drivers alike.

George contacted Hoopa Valley Tribe’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) director Rod Mendes, and requested an analysis of the lighting in downtown Hoopa. George said that not having adequate lighting in downtown Hoopa couldn’t wait any longer after so many accidents occurred in the past year.

“OES and PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) are trying to put lights at intersections, road encroachments, or as close as possible to intersections where pedestrians cross,” said Mendes.

“Mendes has done very well. The tribe requested that the process be expedited because the conditions of the roadways are highly dangerous; winter nearing and people wearing dark clothing makes for even more dangerous conditions for everyone,” George said.

Mendes organized a working meeting with PG&E the week after the council made the request. PG&E completed an assessment of the lighting situation quickly and decided a project this big would need to be done in phases. The first phase of the street lighting project was to light up the downtown area; second was the north end of the valley; and third was the south end.

It is up to business and property owners to request PG&E to fix street lights. Mendes suggests if business or street lights aren’t working, contact OES as that office is the point of contact for this project.

In the downtown area there were only two operating lights, with only one that shines directly on the Highway 96. The broken lights have already been repaired, and in the next few weeks, Hoopa residents can expect to see more lights added.

There are no lights on Shoemaker Road at all. Mendes said that it is the responsibility of the local governments to assure that streets are lit. He plans to begin working on the additional steps to also light up the back roads of Hoopa.

Because the lights are not metered, the HVT pays a flat rate monthly of $20 per pole to PG&E for the street lights whether they are working or not. “If we are paying a flat rate then let’s make sure that the lights get fixed and are functioning properly,” said Mendes.

A separate plan to secure public safety lies in the hands of the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s property and procurement department manager Verel Moon. When a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle in the parking area of Ray’s Food Place the day after Brock had been hit , Moon ordered materials to build speed bumps for the driveways in front of the grocery store. This part of the project will be done within the next month.

Moon is also working to improve lighting in the parking lot. Moon said, “Ray’s Food Place has poor lighting in the parking lot. I have a safety concerns for the community members that include pedestrians, visitors, and our elders. This is the central area for Ray’s, Tsewenaldin Inn, and the casino.”

After learning that the downtown beautification project could help cover the cost, Moon began working with the roads department in hope of the saving the tribe money. However, the tribe put a temporary hold on the project because the paperwork would take time to process. Plus there was no guarantee that the downtown project could provide the funds necessary to complete the project.

Moon looked at the situation more closely, weighing the costs against the safety benefits and decided the safety benefits outweighed the cost and the project could no longer wait, he said.

At the request of the Vigil-Masten, Moon scheduled a working meeting with the council to also expedite this process as well. “I met with council members who made the decision to address the safety concerns immediately, especially with the upcoming holidays. After the council officially approves the project at the next council meeting, the lighting should be completed in two and a half month,” said Moon.

A total of 12 speed bumps should be installed in the Ray’s Food Place parking lot within a month, as well as four more that will benefit Joe’s Deli and the Hoopa Mini-Mart.

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