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Emergency work rapidly clears debris basins from local storm impacts

MONTECITO, Calif. - Doing a month's worth of work in eleven days, the U.S. Army National Guard and the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department are not as nervous today as they were following a series of storms three weeks ago.

In the Jan. 9 massive weather event, the Randall Road debris basin in Montecito and several others took in large quantities of material. 

Some were filled and some were close to the top, putting the downstream homes and businesses at risk if another big storm system came through. The series of storms to hit the state was a drastic turnaround from the prolonged drought and it hit harder than many people expected. 

If the sites did not get the emergency response and extra help the potential for damage in another round of storms would have been very high.

An update on the project has been given to Santa Barbara County from the U.S. Army National Guard as the troops were set to leave for another assignment in Paso Robles.

The county has also brought in extra help from area contractors who specialize in rock and debris removal to assist in several other front country areas.

Large debris basins in the foothills, are known for slowing debris flows and holding back boulders.

The Randall Road site was visited by Governor Gavin Newsom for about two hours recently and it's where he learned what the National Guard was able to dig out tons of sediment.

An estimated 1500 dump trucks were moved to Goleta Beach where they deposited the sediment, and it is where the currents will move it all down the coast.

"The first thing we did is build a new channel and get the water flow where it was supposed to be," Lt. Col. Donald Lipscom from the U.S. Army National Guard.

They then assessed the total amount of debris and made a plan that would fit a schedule for 11 days around the clock.

Lipscom said, "we sent it back to the chain of command and they said you guys stay down there and finish the job for the community."

The guard's work is done now.    

As they got set to leave,  they were rallied together at the site to hear "thank you's" from their commanders, elected officials and community leaders.

Montecito resident Curtis Skene said, "the fact that you were willing to take your time away from your families speaks to what's best in humanity.  You have all shown us that here with your work and we thank you  from our heart."

He is a community member who helped to make this basin project a reality with political maneuvers, collaboration and support from the local area up to Sacramento. He was overwhelmed.

"There is a great sense of satisfaction but more than that there's huge sense of gratitude," said Skene.

The basin opened late last year and if there was ever an example of timing is everything  this is one of those situations.  It was saving lives and property as soon as Jan. 9.

Skene said via remote cameras, "we could see they were  working 24 hours on this. The lights were  on, the bulldozers were on, and it was still raining. "

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams said, "that would not have happened in this community ten or 20  years ago. It happened because the community understood the risk and the county was willing to take a financial risk to make it happen."

With the National Guard here, other resources went to other basins also filled or nearly filled including in Carpinteria

Williams said, "the Santa Monica basin in Carpinteria is 80 percent full.  We could have another storm, we're emptying that out as quickly as possible.   It could take another five weeks  of work." 

That sediment is going to Carpinteria City Beach with the drop off spot at Ash Ave.

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Article Topic Follows: Lifestyle
Army Corps of Engineers
rainstorm impact
Randall Road Debris Basin
Santa Barbara

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.


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