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The quest to turn the long-forgotten St. Francis Dam site into a National Memorial and Monument began when Dr. Alan Pollack attended a medical convention in Pennsylvania in 2012. During a few free hours, he traveled to Johnstown, Pennsylvania to visit the site of the tragic 1889 Johnstown dam rupture and flood. While there, he saw a visitor’s center administered by the National Park Service for the Johnstown Flood National Memorial. Nearby were abutments which are all that remain of the Southfork Dam at Johnstown.
The history of the Johnstown Flood was remarkably similar to the history of the St. Francis Dam disaster. Yet, while the site of the Johnstown dam break had been made a National Memorial in 1963, at the St. Francis Dam site, there was nothing but the ruins of the dam. Thereafter, Dr. Pollack became determined to make the St. Francis Dam Disaster site a National Memorial.
Soon afterward, through Facebook and a mutual friend, Dr. Pollack met Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel. Dianne is a community activist and current Executive Director of the Community Hiking Club in Santa Clarita. In the past, Dianne successfully helped usher through Congress, legislation to establish 470,000 acres of Wilderness in California, and several Wild and Scenic Rivers.
After the passage of this bill in 2009, Dianne continued to work on passing legislation to create the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument as well as wilderness protections in the Angeles National Forest. The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument was signed into law on October 10, 2014, by President Obama, giving the Angeles National Forest it’s first National Monument.
Congressman Buck McKeon
Dianne and Alan wrote a legislative proposal and presented it, along with a historical timeline, to Congressman Buck McKeon. As a result, in 2014, Rep. McKeon introduced the first bill to establish a National Memorial at the St. Francis dam site. Unfortunately, the legislation did not move forward after Rep. McKeon retired and moved to Utah.
Knight, Brownley, Harris & Feinstein Sponsor the National Memorial Bills
After Rep. McKeon’s retirement, Congressman Steve Knight was elected to represent California’s 25th district. The next year, Rep. Knight introduced a bill in the House which became known as the Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial Act. Afterward, in 2017, Rep. Knight, along with his co-sponsor Congresswoman Julia Brownley of Ventura, reintroduced the bill as H.R. 2156. Later that year, California Senator Kamala Harris introduced the Senate version of the bill, S 1926, to provide for a National Memorial and National Monument at the Dam site. This bill was co-sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein.
H.R. 2156 unanimously passed in the House on July 31, 2018. However, passage through the Senate proved to be more difficult. The bill ran out of time on the Senate floor at the close of business in 2018.
Congresswoman Katie Hill
Happily, the story continued beyond the end of 2018. On February 6, 2019, newly elected Congresswoman Katie Hill reintroduced the bill in the House as her first piece of legislation. Along with reintroducing a stand-alone bill in the Senate, Senator Harris was successful in getting the National Memorial bill included in a massive lands bill package. This bill S.47, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act was sponsored by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. S.47 passed the Senate by a vote of 92-2 on February 12, 2019. The House followed through and passed the bill on February 26, 2019, by a vote of 363-62.
St. Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and National Monument
President Trump signed the lands package into law on March 12, 2019, officially creating the 353 acre St. Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and National Monument. Ironically, the bill was signed 91 years to the day after the rupture of the St. Francis Dam. The Memorial is only the 2nd National Memorial in California and the 61st in the entire United States. Other National Memorials in the United States include Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Flight 93 National Memorial, Oklahoma City National Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial, Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Wright Brothers National Memorial, and the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.
The St. Francis Dam National Memorial and National Monument thus became the first National Memorial in the history of the US Forest Service and the second National Monument for the Angeles National Forest.
Our vision is to work with the United States Forest Service to help fund and build a visitor’s center on the St. Francis Dam site. We also hope to build an educational center and a Memorial Wall for the victims. But we need your help to accomplish this goal. We are a 501c3 organization. Therefore, all donations to our Foundation are tax-deductible. No donation is too small. Thank you for your support.
Text of S.47 – John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act: