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A nonprofit wants to install nets in Montecito foothills to prevent mudslides

Pat McElroy, the former Santa Barbara city fire chief leading the nonprofit, seen here along San Ysidro Creek, explains the project for installing metal debris nets to help prevent debris flows in Montecito.
Pat McElroy, the former Santa Barbara city fire chief leading the nonprofit, seen here along San Ysidro Creek, explains the project for installing metal debris nets to help prevent debris flows in Montecito. Noozhawk.com

The Montecito group behind the debris-net proposal proposed for the Montecito foothills said Friday that permitting agencies have signed off on a large portion of the project, approving the installation of nets in three creeks.

The nonprofit group, called The Partnership for Resilient Communities, has been working on the debris-net project proposal for months, and filed emergency permit applications to install 15 nets across Cold Spring, Hot Springs, San Ysidro, Buena Vista and Romero creeks on private land.

Emergency permit applications for nets in Cold Spring, San Ysidro and Buena Vista creeks have been approved by Santa Barbara County, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, said Alixe Mattingly, with The Partnership for Resilient Communities, on Friday.

The Romero Creek site requires approval from the U.S. Forest Service, and that application is pending, according to the nonprofit.

The property owner for the Hot Springs Creek net sites, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, decided to rescind permission for the permit application, according to the county.

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A sign along the San Ysidro Trail indicates an application for or installing metal debris nets to help prevent debris flows. Giana Magnoli Noozhawk.com

The county’s emergency permit authorizes installing the nets and monitoring/maintaining them for only one year, and requires the nonprofit to remove them after one year.

In the application, the nonprofit asked to keep the nets in place for multiple years, until hillside vegetation recovers from the Thomas Fire, and the threat of debris flows diminishes.

Pat McElroy, the former Santa Barbara city fire chief leading the nonprofit, has said they need at least $7 million to install, maintain and remove the nets, and donors have contributed about $2 million in funds so far and pledged more, if permits were approved.

The nonprofit is optimistic it can fundraise the rest of the money to build all of its permitted nets, Mattingly said in a statement.

“With these authorizations in hand, The Partnership is ordering its first series of GeoBrugg debris nets, and mobilizing for construction in early January as it raises final construction funds and signs landowner agreements,” she said, noting that the county permit requires “phase one” to start within 30 days of the permit being issued.

Getting regulatory agencies to sign off on the project was a huge step for the project, but the nonprofit still needs to reach agreement with property owners where the nets will be installed: Mary Kay Robinson Living Trust for the Cold Spring sites; Wilderness BB LLC (a Ty, Inc. entity) for San Ysidro sites; the Peggy Pollock Trust and Thomas Philip Pollock Trust for the Buena Vista sites; and the U.S. Forest Service for the Romero sites, according to permit application documents.

According to the project proposal in the Santa Barbara County permit application, the nets would be installed across the creek channels, 3 to 5-feet off the bottom of the creek bed. If a storm brings down debris retained by the net, it would be redistributed along the creek channel, including moving it to the downstream side.

Excavators would be flown in by helicopter to “reestablish the low-flow channel” and some work may be finished by hand, according to the permit application.

The nonprofit also expects to need insurance and performance bonding for the project, McElroy said.

According to the county’s permit approval documents, each net will be inspected within 24 hours of a storm event for repairs and/or debris removal.

The county approved two nets in Cold Spring Creek, two in San Ysidro Creek and seven in Buena Vista Creek.

The Partnership for Resilient Communities plans to apply for additional net sites in 2019, and is pursuing FEMA funding for that, Mattingly said.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNewsand @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.
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