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Montecito Ring Nets Get Emergency Permit from County

Privately Funded Project Aims to Mitigate Debris Flows

A ring net holds back mud and debris in Camarillo Springs.
KANE GeoTech, Inc.

An ambitious and controversial project to install steel “ring nets” in canyons above Montecito was permitted today by the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development department. “The project consists of a temporary debris flow prevention and mitigation system that will be located in … Cold Spring Canyon, San Ysidro Canyon, and Buena Vista Canyon,” according to the emergency permit issued to The Partnership for Resilient Communities, a nonprofit underwritten mostly by wealthy Montecito residents. “The [permit] involves installation, one year of maintenance, and removal of 11 Geobrugg flexible debris-control nets. Two additional nets located in Romero Canyon are proposed outside of [county government] jurisdiction, and as such, are not included as part of this emergency permit.”

The heavily anchored net systems are designed to stop or slow debris-laden floods and mudflows triggered by intense rainstorms this winter. The partnership was created in the aftermath of the 1/9 Debris Flow, which killed 23 Montecito residents and destroyed more than 100 homes.

Retired Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Pat McElroy, who serves as the partnership’s executive director, said the permit allows for two nets each in Cold Spring and San Ysidro canyons and seven nets in Buena Vista Canyon. McElroy added, “We are continuing to pursue [the installation of] nets on federal [U.S. Forest Service] land” in Romero Canyon and in the upper reaches of Hot Springs Canyon. In Hot Springs, the partnership initially sought to install nets down-canyon of Forest Service property but was unable to obtain permission from the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, which owns the land where the nets were proposed.

As the proposal gained traction over the past several months, it received considerable support from Montecito property owners and public safety officials. Early on, Supervisor Das Williams, whose district includes Montecito, said the county wanted to facilitate the effort, or at least not hinder it.

But the project was also met with opposition, namely from trail users concerned with nets potentially obstructing public access and from environmentalists and biologists citing potential impacts to critical canyon habitat for wildlife, including federally endangered steelhead trout, whose historic — and protected — range includes all of Montecito’s creeks.

While the partnership had initially hoped to have nets installed before the end of the year, McElroy said the first round of installations is “a few weeks off.”

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