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Local News

Work Underway On Major New Project Intended To Prevent Dangerous Storm-Related Debris Flows In Montecito

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(KCLU photo)
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Work is set to begin on the Randall Road Debris basin, which is intended to help protect parts of Montecito against dangerous debris flows

$20 million dollar effort will create new debris basin to protect part of community

It’s a nightmare that Curtis Skene has been reliving for more than three years. On January 9th, 2018 the Montecito debris flow rolled through the community, killing 23 people, and destroying or damaging hundreds of homes, including Skene’s.

He escaped serious injury. As Skene waited outside of his gutted East Valley Road home for help, he decided he wanted to try to prevent similar disasters in the community.

It transformed him into an activist. He rallied the community, and government leaders to get support for building a giant debris basin. The focus is on the Randall Road area, east of Montecito’s Upper Village area.

This is where the San Ysidro Creek overflowed during the 2018 disaster, and fanned out, sending a wall of rocks, debris and mud all the way to Highway 101. The Randall Road Debris Basin is intended to stop future flows.

Tom Fayram is Santa Barbara County’s Deputy Public Works Director. He says they bought eight pieces of land which are about an acre each for the project. Fayram says after a major storm hits, crews will go to work cleaning out the basin, to insure its ready for the next one which arrives.

To create the debris basin on the beautiful, tree covered hillside just north of Highway 192, it meant that several families which lost their homes to the debris flow would have to drop plans to rebuild, and sell their property.

Kathy Waldorf says while her family’s Randal Road home was a total loss, she feels lucky her mother wasn’t hurt. They evacuated her before the debris flow hit.

Waldorf, like other property owners who sold their land for the project, says they hope their sacrifice will make the community safer.

Federal funding will cover a big chuck of the $20 million dollar project, with state grants and some county money will cover the rest.

Skene, who help rally the community and government leaders to support the project, says many people stepped up. He says Democratic Congressman Salud Carbajal of Santa Barbara, former State Senator Hanna-Beth Jackson, County Supervisor Das Williams and a number of county officials joined together to make the impossible possible.

While Skene is thrilled that the project is underway, he still has a more personal fight underway. He is still trying to reach agreement with his insurance company over rebuilding his home.

Design work for the debris basin is done, and work is set to start next week. Plans call for it to be done by the end of the year.