Did You Know That the 101 Freeway Widening Project Has an Aquatic Resource Biologist?

By Nick Schou   |   February 25, 2021
Sarah Sandstrom, Caltrans Aquatic Resource Biologist

In this, the Journal’s third profile of the people who work behind the scenes in the biggest infrastructure project to hit Montecito in recent memory, we meet Sarah Sandstrom, Caltrans’ aquatic resource manager. According to Tim Gubbins, Caltrans District 5 Director, Sandstrom is a key player in the agency’s effort to protect the environment as it widens the 101 freeway. “Sarah is a highly educated and trained biologist,” Gubbins said. “She is a valued member of our biologist team and focuses her skills on helping our project meet high environmental standards and improve wetland and habitat areas as part of this larger congestion-relief project. Our construction projects benefit the larger community in many ways, and our work on improving wetlands and habitat areas near the freeway is important for all of us.”

What is your basic job description, and what is your key role in the Highway 101:  Carpinteria to Santa Barbara project?

I’m an Aquatic Resource Biologist. Together with a team of other biologists, I help ensure that the project meets our environmental commitments and minimizes impacts to natural resources to the maximum extent possible.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and other projects you’ve worked on in the past?

I joined Caltrans in 2019 after working for a private consulting company in the Seattle area for the past decade. I have also worked for the California Department of Fish and Game (before it became the Department of Fish and Wildlife), the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the University of California Davis. I hold a master’s degree in Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences and a certificate in Wetland Science and Management.

So far, I’ve worked on a range of projects, including estuarine, floodplain, and stream restoration, shoreline and natural resource planning, and environmental permitting for a range of residential to large municipal infrastructure projects. Now, I am working on all segments of the Highway 101 project, as well as projects throughout the Caltrans Central Coast District that involve environmental permits.

Can you explain a bit about your work so far on the Highway 101: Carpinteria to Santa Barbara project?

I joined the project on my first day at Caltrans when we were preparing the permit application package for the first segment of the project in Carpinteria. This process is important because it ensures that we identify potential environmental impacts and then figure out ways to avoid and minimize them. On this large project, we are focusing native restoration in concentrated areas to encourage self-sustaining natural communities that support wildlife habitat and improve water quality with better filtration and shade.

To you, what is the most exciting work going on in the project?

One area that I am particularly excited about is in the Summerland area at Greenwell Creek. This area is currently overrun with non-native, invasive species, and the project is going to restore nearly an acre of stream and riparian habitat. The project will include inset floodplain benches and bio-engineered willow brush-mattressing to help the creek manage high water flows. I’m excited to see this area transform into functional native habitat in the upcoming years.

What do you think most Montecitans don’t know about the project? 

Most of the public is probably not aware of the extensive environmental and biological protection efforts that go into this type of a highway project. Environmental studies for the project began more than a decade ago. We have a team of biologists that study the area extensively, conduct field surveys for sensitive species prior to and during construction, and monitor all vegetation clearing and grading to ensure that waters, wetlands, and riparian areas are protected. We are part of the team for the entire construction build. Then, we will monitor restored areas for at least five years after the project is completed to ensure that these areas are set up for long-term success.

Stay tuned to this column for more construction updates. Meanwhile, for all inquiries or to view project information, please contact the 101 Freeway Widening Project team at www.SBROADS.com, info@sbroads.com, or 805.845.5112.


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