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Legislation introduced to memorialize St. Francis Dam victims

Posted: August 14, 2014 6:27 p.m.
Updated: August 14, 2014 6:27 p.m.

The St. Francis Dam before it broke on March 12, 1928, sending a cascade of water down San Francisquito Canyon that wiped out communities in the Santa Clara and Santa Clarita valleys.

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Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon has introduced a bill that would create a national memorial to recognize the St. Francis Dam disaster — one of the deadliest events in California history.

McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, introduced House Resolution 5357 at the end of July. The bill would “authorize a national memorial to commemorate those killed by the collapse of the Saint Francis Dam.”

“We’ll at least get it started, get the ball rolling, and hopefully we’ll get it done,” McKeon said Wednesday.

The St. Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon collapsed on March 12, 1928, As many as 600 people are estimated to have died as a result.

The bill states that the dam’s collapse “may represent America’s worst civil engineering failure in the 20th century” and that the resulting loss of life, property and livelihood “was surpassed in the 20th century only by the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.”

“It is right to pay homage to the citizens who perished, were injured, or were dislocated in the flood, and to bring to light and educate the general public about this important historical event,” the bill reads.

Asked what prompted him to introduce the bill this summer, McKeon said the idea was proposed to him by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, executive director of the Community Hiking Club.

“It’s been 86 years, and I just felt that it was time to pay homage to the people that died and to memorialize them,” Erskine-Hellrigel said Thursday.

Both McKeon and Erskine-Hellrigel said many Santa Clarita Valley residents don’t even know about the 1928 disaster.

“And really, it’s time they knew, it’s time their children knew.” Erskine-Hellrigel said.

The Santa Clarita City Council voted in early July to ask McKeon to consider introducing the legislation.

City Intergovernmental Relations Officer Michael Murphy said Thursday that the bill would not only memorialize a significant event in the Santa Clarita Valley’s history, but that it contains provisions that would set aside additional land for preservation.

“Part of the legislation looks to preserve areas larger than just the physical site itself, and that dovetails into the council’s long-standing position of wanting to have a greenbelt around the community,” he said.

“So it’s preserving both the history of the site and also recognizing the preservation of the larger surrounding area.”

McKeon is retiring at the end of his current term, but Erskine-Hellrigel said she is hopeful the bill will be passed before then.

“This is very important legislation for Santa Clarita,” she said.

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources in the House of Representatives.

“I’m very hopeful,” Erskine-Hellrigel said of the bill. “I cannot imagine anyone objecting to this, seeing how it’s so important to California.”

City Editor Lila Littlejohn contributed to this report.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney




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