Wells Ave. construction begins despite sign hacking

Intermittent road closures weekdays through at least Dec. 7
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Editor
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Despite erroneous messages about gorillas and marijuana, the actual pipe construction project the electronic signs on Wells Avenue were supposed to have notified locals about has begun.

Beginning Monday, Nov. 26, detours will be in place from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and only residents and emergency vehicles will be allowed in, said Tony Firenzi, senior engineer with Placer County Water Agency (PCWA). He said the project may go on until Dec. 14, before construction moves down Wells to the other side of Laird Road and onto Val Verde Road. Firenze said contractors may encounter lots of subsurface rock on Val Verde that may slow down construction.

“The traffic control will be ‘soft’ road closure, meaning road closures with detours, except that lanes will be made available through work areas for local residents and emergency services.  The roads will be reopened fully each evening,” Firenzi said.

Road closures often raise concerns about increased response time for emergency personnel.

PCWA’s Sierra Ridge Pipeline Improvements Project, which Firenze said is “well needed,” will increase system capacity, particularly fire fighting flow from hydrants, along PCWA’s Taylor Road and Sierra College Boulevard pipelines.

Electronic signs notified drivers of the impending closures, but over the course of two weekends, the messages on at least two different electronic signs were changed three times by unknown pranksters, to both the dismay and amusement of passers by.

Over Veterans Day weekend, the sign nearest Barton Road was changed to read “Smoke weed every day.”

Belinda Montgomery, of Loomis, said that on Nov. 4, pancake breakfast goers at the St. Joseph Marello Monastery were forced to read the hacked message as they drove by. She said she called the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and a deputy responded.

She said, “Many citizens had pulled off to the road and were taking pictures of the sign.”

David Dickenson, who lives on Wells, said he first saw the hacked sign at about 10:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 2, as he was returning home after watching the Del Oro High School football team beat Rocklin.

“I went ‘Whoa, someone has to turn that off,’ and it was up all weekend. They needed to at least kill the power to it,” David Dickenson said.

His wife, Linda, said her first thought was, “Oh, that’s not good.”

She said, “People were kind of mad over the weed one. Most people found it offensive.”

David Dickinson said the next weekend he saw “Caution loose gorilla!” on the sign.

“That was kind of funny. That didn’t bother me too much,” he said.

There was also another hacked message that contained an expletive.

Firenze said, “Unfortunately, it’s (sign hacking) more common than you think.”

He said Preston Pipelines, the contractor for the project, is responsible for the signs and has since installed a second set of locks on it.

Brian Martin, PCWA director of tech services, said the signs were locked and broken into and then the prankster used a keyboard to electronically break into the system, change the password and then change the sign message.

“We rather this didn’t happen at all. We don’t want anything to happen to anyone because a sign has been changed,” Martin said.

Martin said the Sheriff’s office is more closely monitoring the sign and now has the direct line to the contractor should any more hacking occur.

He said if residents notice any changes to signage they should immediately call Sheriff’s dispatch at (530) 886-5375.