The Cambrian

Cambria braces for next wave of storms

Rocks falling off the hillside and onto Highway 41 are the size of bowling balls, some even larger. The road is closed as repairs to Highway 41 are underway between Morro Bay and Atascadero. Rockfalls are happening as work takes place.
Rocks falling off the hillside and onto Highway 41 are the size of bowling balls, some even larger. The road is closed as repairs to Highway 41 are underway between Morro Bay and Atascadero. Rockfalls are happening as work takes place. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

As crews and individual homeowners continue dealing with the effects of eight consecutive rainy days in early January, they were also preparing for an incoming rainstorm siege that, at press deadline, was expected to begin clobbering the North Coast on Wednesday, Jan. 18.

Repairs, mopping up and other chores were going hand-in-hand with gutter cleaning, branch trimming, filling and placing more sandbags and taking precautions against the higher predicted winds and waves in the next set of storms.

The incoming weather systems, which could last through Tuesday, Jan. 24, could undo some recent repairs, and create other problems.

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey was forecasting rain starting the next day and continuing (with a brief break or two) through Monday. He estimated southerly, fresh gale-force winds of up to 46 mph and rainfall amounts of up to 1.75 inches from the Wednesday-Thursday storm, 1.25 to 1.75 inches from the Friday-Saturday storm and heavy rain producing 2 to 4 inches from the Sunday-Monday storm.

He also predicted that the sea could experience “the largest swell event since March 1, 2014, when west-southwesterly swell peaked at 21 feet.”

Fire Chief William Hollingsworth said Tuesday, Jan. 17, that he gets “daily updates from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the county,” which have been predicting the new storms “will be a little colder this time, with more wind. Secondary to the problems of rain and saturated ground,” the predicted high surf would make it risky to be at the shore, and unsafe to do some customary weekend activities, such as fishing, kayaking and tidepooling.

Zebra

In a bizarre incident that may have been storm related, a zebra was found dead and skinned on the beach at the mouth of Pico Creek on Saturday. Officials determined later that the animal had died of natural causes.

A San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s deputy responded to a report of the dead zebra about 12:25 p.m. Saturday, sheriff’s Sgt. Nate Paul said. The zebra, which came from nearby Hearst Ranch, apparently died naturally and was washed down the creek to the beach, Paul said. It was unclear when the zebra was skinned.

Officials from Hearst Ranch declined to comment.

On Saturday afternoon, a picture of the zebra skinned and lying on the rocks near the coastline was posted in the Cambria Open Forum Facebook group.

“The word needs to get out and the person who did this needs to be found,” wrote Jennifer Wharton, who posted the photo.

The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife will not investigate the skinning because the zebra is considered Hearst Ranch property and the ranch decides whether to investigate, Paul said. In this case, the ranch decided not to launch an investigation.

Santa Rosa Creek Road

Emergency repairs continue on one section of Santa Rosa Creek Road about 5 miles east of Cambria, seriously damaged by raging creek water and runoff. That roadway portion likely will be relocated to the north soon, according to Dave Flynn, deputy director of county Public Works.

County officials “are in discussions with the landowner on obtaining consent. The county would then provide an appraisal of property value and follow up with payment to the property owner,” whom The Cambrian has confirmed is Teri McCall. Flynn said, “This would allow the county to fit in a 20-foot roadway for reopening the road, ideally by second week in February.”

If the weather allows, he said, “We would expect to begin work during the week of Jan. 23, after the upcoming forecasted series of rain storms, and allowing for the site to dry out. This is likely a 6- to 10-day work effort that would be impacted by future weather.”

We would expect to begin work during the week of Jan. 23, after the upcoming forecasted series of rain storms, and allowing for the site to dry out. This is likely a 6- to 10-day work effort that would be impacted by future weather.

Dave Flynn, deputy director of county Public Works, on Santa Rosa Creek Road repairs

Flynn estimated that the cost of “moving the road is in the $100,000 to $150,000 range.” Public Works will seek permits to stabilize the creek bank, he said, but the actual repair work wouldn’t start until later.

A section of Santa Rosa Creek Road near the high school “subsided significantly” during the last storm, he said. “It seems that damage was driven by a spring located 20 to 30 feet below the road surface.”

He said the crew quickly “realized putting cold mix was not going to keep pace with the movement” of the pavement. Crews were hired to excavate and then fill “the roadway with large rock to bridge over the spot.”

Crews “had excavators working both ends” of the damaged section, “placed up to 100 tons of rock and had the majority of the work done by Friday, Jan. 13. We’ll wait before repaving to see if further settlement. We have no final costs yet but would be running around $75,000 plus so far.”

Other spots about 2.4 and 3.4 miles from town were damaged due to culvert failures, he said. “Those are marked for one-lane traffic, and we’ll schedule the culvert fixes in near future, but they are not our focus. Both of these sites may run up to $50,000 at each location.”

Highways 1 and 41

As of Tuesday afternoon, according to a Caltrans email alert, Highway 1 “continues to be closed from Ragged Point to Lucia due to rock/mudslides in multiple locations. Motorists may travel south on Highway 1 from Carmel to Lucia or travel north from Cambria to Ragged Point.”

Within that area, there’s “a full closure on Highway 1 at Mud Creek, (about 8.8 miles north of the Monterey/San Luis Obispo county line) … due to mud/rock slides.”

Spokeswoman Susana Cruz called the Mud Creek area “our active slide.” Geotechnical personnel from Caltrans District 5 and San Francisco were meeting Tuesday “to find the best fix for Mud Creek. It may be a longer than desired process, but we’re looking for the best and safest solution.”

Farther south, Highway 41 remains closed as crews work to clear a large, rain-caused mudslide that continues to shed boulders and rocks. The workers will have to remove more than 20,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock from the hillside, reportedly enough to fill six Olympic-size swimming pools, to keep the material from falling on the road.

Caltrans estimates the highway will remain closed until mid-February, assuming, of course, that the incoming storms don’t make the situation worse in the meantime.

Currently, the project is expected to cost $1.5 million.

Other

County and other crews periodically scraped slides off Main Street and other roadways. Fallen trees were removed throughout town. Members of the Lions Club and volunteers helped to muck out the Pinedorado Grounds on Saturday, Jan. 14, cleaning up after runoff of up to 2 feet drenched the area.

As Lions spokesman Jim McPherson reported after the work party, the flood left a lot of mud on the floors and things that were sitting on them. “All of the stuff in the buildings was removed, cleaned and then put back in. The kitchen had to be mopped out, and the Power House Pub/tool shed was pressure washed to get out all of the grime.” The workers put tarps on three of the buildings “to hopefully stop the leaks, until we can get them repaired.”

Jerry Gruber, general manager of the Cambria Community Services District, will report to his board Thursday that in the previous storms, “we experienced local flooding adjacent to the San Simeon well field, but the wells were not directly impacted. The wastewater plant received much higher than normal flows; however, the three additional storage ponds at the plant were utilized to handle the additional flows.”

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