Caltrans workers finally got the better of the debris choking Highway 101 after two weeks of struggle, opening the freeway to traffic as of Sunday at noon. The effort involved 350 workers — state and private contractors — working around the clock with countless trucks, big rigs, and excavators to haul off 105,000 cubic yards of muck, all at a cost of $12 million.
About 95,000 motorists use this stretch of road a day, and for 15,000 Ventura County residents, it’s how they get to their jobs in Santa Barbara. For employers large and small, it’s been a significant hardship. UCSB was forced to make do without about 250 workers while Cottage Hospital put up as many as 200 in area hotels.
In the meantime, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signified the seriousness with which it’s treating the disaster by dispatching its top commander, Lt. General Todd Semonite, to Santa Barbara last week for a quick tour and press conference. Overflowing with executive energy, Semonite and the Corps are focused on clearing out the 11 debris basins built in the 1960s to protect the South Coast from flood-born mayhem. Should another storm hit, Santa Barbara’s backcountry — scalped and scoured by the Thomas Fire — poses a serious risk to downstream residents.
According to Semonite, dressed in camo fatigues, about 70 Army Corps staff have been assigned to the task, and that doesn’t count the contractors hired. They’re hauling boulders and other storm-swept debris away at a rate of 500 truckloads a day. According to County Flood Control czar Tom Fayram, that’s 40,000 cubic yards that have been extricated from local catch basins and creek channels. None of that, insisted Semonite, is being dumped at area beaches. Instead, he said, it’s being hauled to a quarry in Buellton where it’s dumped and sorted.
Huddling with Fayram and County Public Works manager Scott McGolpin after a press conference at Earl Warren Showgrounds, Semonite asked that they review the catch basins for possible changes. If none were feasible, he suggested emergency evacuation loudspeakers might be erected to improve the response time of citizens seeking to evacuate.
Semonite invited Fayram and McGolpin to stop by and visit him at the Army Corps headquarters in Washington D.C., but noted he’s only in his office on Mondays and Fridays. All other days, he said, he likes to be out in the field, adding, “I always want to have the muddiest boots on the ground.”
Though the 101 is now open, the off-ramps are closed through Montecito to allow mud removal and recovery searches to continue, according to the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans. More than 200 large trucks remain at work, and drivers are warned to be aware that the heavily loaded trucks will be entering the highway. As of this writing, the following surface streets remain closed: Santa Claus Lane at South Padaro Lane; State Route 192 at lower Toro Canyon, Ortega Ridge Road, Sheffield Drive, San Ysidro Road, Hot Springs Road, and Sycamore Canyon Road; Ortega Hill Road at Ortega Ridge; Sheffield at Ortega Hill; San Ysidro at North Jameson Lane; Olive Mill at North Jameson and also San Benito Way; and Hot Springs at Oak Road and at Middle Road.
The evacuation notices have been modified for both mandatory and voluntary areas, reported the county Joint Information Center (JIC). Residents may return home as of noon on Tuesday in the areas north of Highway 101 to the west of Olive Mill Road/Mesa Road/Oak Road, south of Hot Springs Road/Sycamore Canyon Road, and to the east of Eucalyptus Hill Road/El Rancho Road/Camino Viejo Road/Summit Road/Hot Springs Road. Among mandatory evacuees, Ayala Lane residents may return, as may those on Ashley Road north of Sycamore Canyon Road to the 700 block of Ashley, people east of Cold Spring Road, and people south of East Mountain Drive as far as the 800 block of East Mountain Drive.
The county’s interactive map — available online at countyofsb.org — will also be updated as of noon today to allow residents to input their address to verify which zone they are in, the JIC stated.
Southern California Gas repored it has completed its assessment of Montecito’s gas lines as of today. Service has been restored to 621 customers, mostly in the northeast and southwest parts of town. Along Coast Village Road, 46 business had natural gas service restored. As technicians move through accessible areas, they are calling customers or leaving door tags with information. SoCal Gas representatives are at a table in the Recovery and Assistance Center (1 N. Calle César Chávez) Monday-Saturday. To leave your contact information online, click the yellow “update info” button at socalgas.com/Montecito.
Edison crews have been replacing poles and transformers, and restrung more than 75,000 feet of wire and cables, the company reported. Power remains down for 250 customers. Edison reps are also at the recovery center.
The post office at 107 Nopalitos Way in Santa Barbara remains the location of Montecito’s mail. The P.O. in the Upper Village will remain closed as long as it is in the mandatory evacuation area.
Starting Monday, January 29, the Read ‘n Post (1026-B Coast Village Road) will resume its normal hours, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday.