As North Coast residents, agencies and business owners brace for the next round of rain-and-wind storms — which was expected to hit Thursday evening through Tuesday or Wednesday, with a possible break Sunday — some people were continuing to deal with damage done by previous storms.
Businesses face the prospect of having fewer out-of-the-area customers, as the parade of storms and the ongoing closure of Highway 1 north of Ragged Point dampen travel plans.
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Mary Ann Carson, executive director of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday that she’d only had one request so far for help in urging Caltrans to complete the repairs quickly, but she expects more business owners will be contacting her soon.
Up to now, “they’ve been hopeful,” she said, but “they’re looking at spring business now” after the traditionally slow post-holiday business season. “This is about the time when people are getting a little nervous” about the road closure, “particularly in San Simeon and Big Sur.”
Uncertainty about how long the highway would remain closed to traffic can also be a factor in residents’ storm-related nervousness.
Those whose homes or properties were flooded or hit by falling trees are also juggling insurance companies, emergency permits, cleanup, repair and tree contractors and the complications of real life amid storm-caused chaos.
Some longtime Big Sur-area folks have said on social media that, given how thoroughly soaked the hillsides are, they fear a monthslong closure of at least one lane and perhaps both.
No matter how quickly Caltrans crews hustle to stabilize the hillsides and scrape slides of rocks and mud off the surface of the road, new rain and underground slippage continue sending new slides to cover the pavement.
Agency spokespeople have been sending emailed updates daily, and sometimes more often, to residents, businesses and media. That’s how quickly the situation can change, and has changed, in recent weeks.
As of a Caltrans update sent via email about 2:30 p.m. Feb. 14, the scenic highway was closed to through traffic from Ragged Point to Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, about 45 miles north of the Monterey County line.
The email said the roadway isn’t passable between Ragged Point and Dolan Point (about 30 miles north of the county line).
This is about the time when people are getting a little nervous (about the road closure), particularly in San Simeon and Big Sur.
Mary Ann Carson, Cambria Chamber of Commerce executive director
Caltrans will fully close Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge to all, including pedestrians, when it’s raining.
One support on the bridge developed cracks that were discovered initially by a homeless person who then notified Caltrans, according to Kate Novoa, known affectionately as “BigSurKate” by the closely knit network of neighbors who keep one another informed about such crisis situations.
Novoa estimated Monday, Feb. 13, that hundreds of people were isolated between the two heaviest hit areas: Cow Cliffs (28 miles north of the county line) and the Pfeiffer bridge.
On Wednesday, a bridge survey was to be done about 9 a.m. But prior preliminary estimates for that day only were that vehicles “may be allowed to cross” the bridge, “one vehicle at a time, escorted by CHP” during two brief sessions, for “critical and necessary trips” and on that day only, according to the email.
Another closure involves steep, rocky Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, according to a Feb. 14 notice from Los Padres National Forest and Monterey County. It is the only pass-through from Highway 1 to Highway 101 between Carmel Valley Road and Highway 46, and some of those trapped by the Highway 1 closure had been using Nacimiento-Fergusson as their way out.
The road was to have been closed as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15, “due to road slide safety concerns. Road-closure barriers will be installed at the junctions of South Coast Road at Nacimiento Summit and at the junction with Highway 1.”
North Coast roads
Some other streets and roads also have been damaged by the storms, including part of the hillside that supports about a 20-foot section of the long, hilly road leading to Hearst Castle.
There’s “a little bit of a slough-off there … a little undercutting,” said Dan Falat, superintendent of the state park district that includes the castle.
“A bit of the edge of the roadway was exposed,” he said, enough so maintenance crews have reduced travel there to a single lane of reversing traffic. Falat said that “it’s safe for travel, and we’re monitoring it” regularly.