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Babbit and the Jackhammer 

by Kevin Taylor & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "T & lt;/span & he most fun I had was running a jackhammer on a small dam in Marin County. I still have a piece of the concrete on my mantel," says former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt of his days as a notorious "dam-buster."

"It's pretty hard for me to forget that," says Ted Van Midde III with a laugh. Van Midde, a concrete contractor in Marin County's San Geronimo Valley, is that rare environmentalist who knows his way around a jackhammer.

He was delegated to train Babbitt in the jackhammer arts when the Interior Secretary and an entourage of national media swooped down upon Lagunitas Creek for a Saturday dam-breaching photo op.

Locals like Van Midde had spent years cajoling an array of federal, state and local agencies to do something about Roy's Dam. There were only 500 coho left in Lagunitas Creek, but they represented 10 percent of wild salmon left in all of California, and as the fish ladders on the 80-year-old dam decayed, the coho hurled themselves against the dam face and their spawning migration stalled.

After years of effort, the face of Roy's Dam was to be transformed into a series of jumping pools to help salmon over the top, and on that sunny October Saturday, the top was being jackhammered down a foot.

Van Midde didn't mind the publicity stunt... until the two men climbed atop the dam, Babbitt hit the trigger, the air compressor roared to life, the machine started bouncing and there -- in front of the lenses of the national media -- "He almost fell off the back of the dam."

In a smooth move, Van Midde reached out and clapped Babbitt on the shoulder -- for all the world appearing to be congratulatory, but in reality keeping the Interior Secretary from taking a header.

He praises Babbitt for swinging the weight of his office behind the project, which has become an unqualified success since the pools were finished in 1999. Spawning redds have increased phenomenally in Lagunitas Creek, Roy's Pools have become an attraction and residents take fierce pride to protect the wild salmon that spawn amid the golf courses and tract houses of suburbia.

"It's amazing. Everybody wants to take care of the fish. It takes time," says Van Midde, "but when people work together good things can happen."

-- Kevin Taylor
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