A construction crew began driving giant steel pilings into the bank of Alhambra Creek in downtown Martinez this morning near the spot where a local beaver family has built its home, an activity that has many people worried for the animals' safety.
The Martinez City Council had called for the construction after an engineer reportedly found erosion and burrows in the creek bank and nearby property owners threatened to sue the city for allowing the beavers, which built their dam in the path of the city's $9.7 million flood control project, to remain in the creek.
The City Council passed a resolution Oct. 1 authorizing emergency construction to shore up the creek bank.
Jon Ridler with the beaver advocacy group "Worth a Dam" said today he saw four beavers Tuesday evening and two beaver kits early this morning, but that there has been no sign of the animals since construction began at 7 a.m.
At last count, the beaver family was made up of two adults, two yearlings and four kits.
"Not seeing them could mean bad news," Ridler said.
He had been hoping the beavers, which ordinarily sleep in their lodge during the day, would evacuate their burrow because of the noise and escape to safety.
Instead, it appears that they may be holed up inside the lodge.
Construction workers were standing on top of the lodge as a large crane lowered the first few steel pilings into place and then drove them into the bedrock along the edge of the creek bank at the Escobar Street bridge.
Skip Lisle, a beaver biologist from Vermont who the city hired to monitor the construction, said he was encouraged by what he saw this morning.
"It's less violent than I had feared," Lisle said.
As a precaution, a trench was dug Tuesday along the edge of the bank where the pilings were going to go to make sure no beavers would take a direct hit.
Construction workers were also told to put the pilings in very slowly so that if there were a beaver underneath, it would have a chance to get out of the way, Lisle said.
He said he didn't expect the construction would drive the creatures away permanently, but he had been feeding them apples and cottonwood to encourage them to stay.
"The beavers are very used to vibrations from traffic and other human activity," Lisle said. "This is a nice little habitat for them here," Lisle said.
Beaver advocates, meanwhile, were keeping watch to see if the beavers came out and started heading downstream.