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New, Improved Debris Basins for Montecito

10-Acre Debris Basin Funded by FEMA

Scott McGolpin | Credit: Paul Wellman

To improve flood protections, county supervisors approved plans ​— ​at a cost of $300,000 per reengineering project, nearly $1 million combined ​— ​to reengineer debris basins serving three Montecito creeks. If built, the rejiggered catch basins would allow more water and sand to pass downstream, saving limited storage space for larger stones and boulders. According to County Public Works czar Scott McGolpin, the new contracts were inspired by the improved effectiveness of a basin on Gobernador Creek after such changes were made. McGolpin said the number of truck trips needed to haul away sand and other debris diminished by 35-40 percent due to the improvements. Such a project would require environmental review; construction, he said, is about three years off.

In the meantime, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agreed to help fund the development of a new 10-acre debris basin, located by Randall Road north of State Route 192. FEMA reportedly agreed to cover 75 percent of land acquisition costs, leaving the county to find funding for the rest. The 11 properties in question are estimated to cost $21 million ​— ​and the property owners have agreed to sell ​— ​after the January 9, 2018, debris flow that inflicted such damage in Montecito.

Last, the supervisors voted to use the county’s power of the purse to help a plan devised by a group of private property owners ​— ​including Joe Cole, one of the owners of the Santa Barbara Independent ​— ​to place steel mesh curtains across several canyons in Montecito’s steep front country. The supervisors agreed to provide backup funding, if need be, to install two more debris nets in addition to the four already installed. The state has insisted the group set aside funding to remove the nets once the hillsides have stabilized and the threat of debris flow has diminished.

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