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Pipeline Crews To Save Historic San Mateo County Oak

SAN MATEO (CBS SF) - A centuries-old oak tree in San Mateo County in the path of a $4.6 billion water system upgrade will be preserved thanks to an agreement reached between neighbors, the county and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The tree, which North Fair Oaks neighbors nicknamed "Granny" and is estimated to be at least 150 years old, stands in the path of a project to upgrade the Hetch Hetchy water delivery system so that more than two million Bay Area residents will have a safe water supply in the event of a major earthquake.

Negotiations to preserve the valley oak reached an impasse in August, but on Monday the SFPUC, the county and neighbors jointly announced that public money will be spent to tunnel beneath the tree's roots to allow the construction of the new water supply pipeline to move forward.

"We believe that the preservation of this oak tree fits into the county's future proposed use of the space," SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington said in a statement.

The agreement calls for the possible future creation of a public park. He said, "This solution represents a win for everyone involved."

The SFPUC had been in discussions with neighborhood residents since May, but it was only in the last few weeks that the county presented a draft environmental review of the public park proposal.

"San Mateo County is always identifying creative opportunities that expand our public open spaces," Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson said.

Ron Van Theil, a neighborhood representative, said that residents were satisfied by the solution.

"The neighbors who have worked long and hard during the last four months had one ultimate goal: to identify the least invasive option to preserve this irreplaceable natural resource while ensuring water for this important project," Van Theil said.

Tunnel work will commence this fall after crews complete boring under U.S. Highway 101 as part of the seismic improvement project.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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