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Santa Barbara County approves emergency permit for ring net system for Montecito

A major deal is in the works to protect local communities below the fire and storm-battered hills in parts of Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams shared the news on a ring net system with Senior Reporter John Palminteri just moments before he reported it live during Friday’s Midday newscast. Senior Planner Tess Harris confirmed to NewsChannel 3 that an emergency permit was approved by the Planning and Development Department at 11:30 a.m. Friday morning.

The emergency permit brings the County one step closer to the installation of a temporary debris flow mitigation system, for one year, in specific canyons in Montecito.

Harris said a total of 11 large-scale, steel ring nets will be installed in areas prone to debris flows. Sizes range from 10′ feet to 20′ feet in height and 14′ feet and 150′ feet wide.

Targeted sites include: two debris nets for Cold Spring Canyon, two for San Ysidro Canyon, and seven for Buena Vista Canyon. Harris said two nets are might be installed in Romero Canyon but not under the current emergency permit; that area in Los Padres National Forest jurisdiction.

Final approval is still needed from the Regional Water Control Board. Once that happens, construction must begin in 30 days and then there is a 60 day window to complete the work.

The Partnership for Resilient Communities was behind the petition for the emergency permit. The group of citizens, including retired Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Pat McElroy, formed in the aftermath of the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslide.

The group released the following press release soon after the emergency permit was granted:

“All of the emergency authorizations for a Santa Barbara non-profit group to proceed with constructing 11 debris flow protection nets in the canyons above Montecito have been granted today by four federal, state and local agencies, The Partnership for Resilient Communities announced.

With these authorizations in hand, The Partnership is ordering its first series of GeoBrugg debris nets and is mobilizing for construction in early January as it raises final construction funds and signs landowner agreements.

“We thank the County of Santa Barbara, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the California Water Quality Control Board for their commitment to the environment and to the public’s safety,” said Pat McElroy, The Partnership’s Executive Director. “We’re proceeding with nets in three of the highest risk canyons.”

The community was hit by boulders and mud in the early morning of January 9 in a disaster that resulted in the loss of 23 lives, billions in property damage, and closed the 101 Freeway for several weeks. The consensus of public safety and debris flow experts is that Montecito’s steep canyons after the Thomas Fire remain at high risk for debris flows after another intense rain, particularly in this El Nino year.

“The Partnership has stepped up for our community and filled a critical gap.” said Mona Miyasato, Santa Barbara County CEO. “They have sought temporary solutions working with the County and other state agencies for added measures of safety for the community.”

The County received over 50 letters of support from leading community stakeholders during a two-week public comment period. The project was substantially improved after input from creeks and trails advocates and the regulatory agencies.

“This Partnership is a marquee example of shared trust, cooperation, and innovative thinking from the private sector, government, philanthropy and community leadership,” added McElroy. “This Public Private Partnership is a win-win for our region’s safety and enhances our shared culture of preparedness and resiliency going forward.”

Fundraising is critical and ongoing, with individual support needed at all levels. The Partnership has raised approximately $2 million. With these regulatory authorizations, and using matching funds pledged by generous donors, The Partnership is optimistic that it will close out its $7 million capital campaign to build the maximum number of nets. For more information or to donate, please visit

The Partnership’s installation contractor and geotechnical engineer, Access Limited Construction and KANE GeoTech, Inc., respectively, are staging once the landowner authorizations and funding is completed. Storrer Environmental Services and Suzanne Elledge Planning & Permitting Services will continue to provide critical monitoring and permitting support.

TPRC also announced today that they are moving forward in discussions with FEMA for $4.44 million in Hazard Mitigation Grant Funding for a second phase of protective debris flow nets in 2019. The Partnership is also committed to exploring improved monitoring and warning systems and hillside native re-vegetation solutions in the coming year.

About the TPRC
The Partnership for Resilient Communities (TPRC) was formed by county residents shortly after the 1/9 Debris Flow as a 501(c)(3) non-profit community organization focusing on recovery, safety and resiliency efforts, including most critically on debris flows.

The non-profit organization’s mission has been to focus on helping the County select and implement the most appropriate approaches for disaster prevention and solutions that immediately address and reduce hillside risk. For more information: “

Harris said if they would like to keep the system in place longer, they must apply for a subsequent permit for a total of five years, maximum.

The ring net system is manufactured by Geobrugg, based in Switzerland. Kane GeoTech Stockton will help with the engineering component during installation, as well as Access Limited Construction in Oceano.

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