MODESTO -- Now that burrowing owls living in a northeast Modesto storm-water basin have finished their nesting season, the city is poised to evict them so workers can make several hundred thousand dollars in erosion repairs and upgrades to the basin.
City officials are recommending the City Council approve a $392,358 contract with Clovis-based Hobbs Construction Inc. at its Tuesday meeting. The total cost of this part of the project is estimated at nearly $498,000.
The basin is in Village I on Bear Cub Lane next to Ustach Park and Ustach Middle School. Another construction firm started repairs to the basin in March, but the work was halted after two days when workers found evidence of nesting burrowing owls. The owls take over rodent burrows to nest and raise their young.
The city canceled its contract with that firm as the city developed a plan to deal with the owls.
While not listed as an endangered species, burrowing owls are a "species of special concern" in California and have protections under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The city waited until the owls recently finished their nesting season before restarting the project. Before repairs begin, workers will do what's called a passive relocation of the owls. Workers will place one-way trap doors over the nesting holes to prevent the owls from returning to their nests and collapse other rodent holes that could serve as nests.
Officials have said this is the preferred method to remove the owls. Capturing and relocating the owls would be too traumatic for the birds.
Modesto has hired Diane Moore, principal for Moore Biological Consultants of Galt, to help with the project. She has worked with Northern San Joaquin Valley school districts and home builders to relocate burrowing owls.
Modesto also sent letters Thursday to about 250 households within 500 feet of the basin alerting them that the project was resuming, said William Wong, senior civil engineer with the city.
Wong said the burrowing owls could find new homes at the nearby park and fields during the project, which is expected to be completed by spring.
"Once construction starts," he said, "the hope is the owls will find it too noisy and will find another burrow for that season."
In his several visits to the basin, Wong said, residents have approached him regarding their concerns about the owls. A city inspector spotted two owls in the basin last week. Three owls were spotted in June.
"There are lots of passionate people who walk around the basin," Wong said.
The storm-water basin suffers heavy erosion and requires constant maintenance, according to a city report. The project entails repairing the basin walls and minimizing erosion by adding landscaping to stabilize the soil and other methods.
Once the project is complete, Wong said, the owls are free to return.
The City Council will meet Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.