By Lisa P. White

STAFF WRITER

MARTINEZ — The beaver family can stay in Alhambra Creek for a while longer after the City Council declined Wednesday to vote on whether to relocate them, but one expert said it appears the critters may already be moving on.

Mary Tappel, an environmental scientist who has a long history of helping communities manage beaver populations, said it appears the Martinez beavers have practically depleted the creek banks of their favorite foods and seem to be moving downstream.

"Beavers always move," she said, adding that city leaders should not believe they can keep the animals in the location in the creek where they have built the dam.

Tappel made her comments after the council had listened for an hour to a presentation from the subcommittee that has been working for five months to develop a plan for managing the beavers. Before a spirited crowd of supporters, many of whom were wearing pro-beaver T-shirts, subcommittee members ran through the potential risks, benefits and costs of leaving the beavers in the creek.

The subcommittee has recommended that Martinez spend an estimated $100,000 to $200,000 to build a floodwall and flood terrace and design a pathway to channel creek overflow during a flood. Mitch Avalon, a subcommittee member who is director of the county flood control district, noted that these improvements would have the added benefit of increasing creek capacity from the current ability to withstand a 10 year storm.

Councilmembers Mark Ross and Lara DeLaney, who also served on the subcommittee, indicated their support for keeping the beavers and for taking the vote Wednesday night.

"We can keep beavers here if we want to," Ross said. "I think what we have is the ability to balance our economic interest, our safety interest and basically do what's good for our soul and keep the beavers."

But Mayor Rob Schroder and councilmembers Janet Kennedy and Mike Menesini said they wanted more information about costs, potential liability for the city and the impact on adjacent properties of the beavers burrowing into the banks before they would be ready to vote. The city attorney is preparing an opinion for the council on liability. The city also has arranged to have a soils engineer review the findings of a report a downtown property owner commissioned on the beaver dam's effect on the stability of the creek bank.

"Relocation, in my view, is still an option," Menesini said. "I think we owe it to the citizens to take a very long and serious look at this issue."

Several people spoke passionately — and one woman even sang a ballad — in favor of keeping the beavers. The crowd cheered and applauded their remarks.

"Let's remain true to the heritage of John Muir and learn to co-exist with all the other creatures that live in our town," said Kathi McLaughlin, a Martinez school board member.