How long will Bay Area storm repairs take?

2 months ago The Mercury News

The worst of this season’s storms is behind us, but the repair work across the Bay Area — estimated to take weeks, months or even longer — is just beginning. A destructive vortex of flooding, mudslides and high winds cracked asphalt, shook bridge foundations and damaged other critical infrastructure.

The initial tally for repairs and reconstruction? A whopping $1 billion if both public infrastructure and private property repairs are included. Perhaps more. Ultimately, this year’s storms could near or eclipse $2 billion in damage during the 1997-98 El Niño, when adjusted for inflation.

Municipal and county repair costs across the region are likely to total hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It isn’t just a slap of the Band-Aid,” said Harry Freitas, who oversees Santa Clara County’s roads. “This is going to take some time.”

A pair of mallard ducks swim near a damaged section of the Estudillo Canal on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in San Lorenzo, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

In Santa Cruz County, which received the brunt of the storms, the initial infrastructure damage estimate is at $55 million and counting—with a timeline for many repairs still in the works. Seacliff State Beach was functionally obliterated — impacting the area’s road, public access area and RV campground — and officials there view it as the biggest project they’ll need to tackle. The worst of the road damage is in the San Lorenzo Valley and on Bear Creek Road.

In the storm-battered city of Capitola, the combined cost of infrastructure damages, emergency response and debris removal has ballooned to $2.6 million—nearly a 10th of the city’s entire budget—according to finance director Jim Malberg. The road to recovery is long.

“It’s probably safe to say it will take over a year for some repairs to be completed,” Malberg said.

In Clara County, officials are conservatively estimating $40 million in damage. Much of the cost will come from road repairs, and the worst of it is at Mines Road in San Antonio Valley and Old Santa Cruz Highway. The highly saturated soil, which broke asphalt and poured across the county’s roads, is still moving about a foot a day.

Workers stand next to a collapsed portion of Mines Road damage during the resent storms in the San Antonio Valley in eastern Santa Clara County. (courtesy The Junction Bar & Grill)

The damage is so extensive that engineers will need to examine soil samples from some roads that appear structurally sound, but may have shaky foundations, officials said.

“It is hilly. It is steep. We don’t just put a patch on it,” said Freitas, the county’s roads expert.

While incorporated parts of the county took a beating, San Jose fared quite well, said city spokesperson Colin Heyne. At the moment, the repairs consist mainly of filling up 20 or so potholes a day.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District, which oversees the county’s creeks and flood control, has also avoided major repairs and will be spending less than $1 million on some lightly damaged equipment that includes a log boom that was dislodged from its anchor at Coyote Reservoir.

Graphic showing the early estimates of infrastructure damage in three Bay Area counties due to the recent storms. Also compares the State's estimates for this year to the damage inflicted during the 1997-98 El Niño.To the north in San Mateo County, the storms forced the closure of nearly all parks, and eight still remained shut on Wednesday. That includes the popular Devil’s Slide and Quarry Point. Others are partially closed, including most of the Cyrstal Springs Regional Trail, parks spokesperson Carla Schoof said.

“We have some damage to a bridge at our marine reserve so that’s going to take some time to go through the permitting process and bring that bridge to site and install it, so there’s no telling a timeline for that,” Schoof said. “But things like that will take more time than progressively going through and clearing mudslides and clearing trees.” Damage estimates for the county were not immediately made available.

And farther north in Alameda County, the city of Fremont was forced to close its Old Canyon Road bridge after erosion was found in its foundation. Several streets are still closed, including Sullivan Underpass, which leads into the city’s historic Niles District, and Mill Creek and Morrison Canyon roads up the hills.

The underpass is normally drained by a built-in pump system, but mud and debris disabled those devices — forcing city workers to clear out the water manually, city spokesperson Geneva Bosques said. On Wednesday, a commuter train was hit by a mudslide in Niles Canyon, forcing the Altamont Corridor Express to shutter service for the remainder of the day. Three people have sustained minor injuries, officials said.

The Sullivan Underpass which was flooded during the atmospheric river storms, remains closed in the Niles district of Fremont, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Damage estimates for the city and county were not immediately available.

Just east in Contra Costa County — along with the cities of Antioch, Danville, Lafayette, Martinez, Moraga, Richmond and Walnut Creek — storm damage has racked up $28 million in estimated costs. That includes everything from a bridge in unincorporated county on Morgan Territory Road, which had its white railing uprooted and torn apart, to exterior damages on two of the area’s detention centers. Byron Airport in unincorporated county was closed Monday because of flooding.

Damage on Glenwood Drive in Scotts Valley forced officials to close the road as of January 16, 2023. (Photo by Jim Owens, Courtesy Scotts Valley Fire District)

Antioch’s Mayor Lamar Thorpe said most of the damage in the city is on roadways, including potholes and sinkholes. Delta Fair Boulevard’s sinkhole will cost some $300,000 to repair, while a portion of Empire Mine Road near the Sand Creek crossing caved in and will cost about $500,000 to repair. Fulton Shipyard Road took the hardest hit with about $1 million in damages. In Antioch alone, the total is estimated to be $4 million.

Contra Costa County officials said they lack the funds to make repairs on roads and other critical infrastructure, and worry about reimbursement at the federal level. They applied for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after the 2017 storms that hit the region, but did not receive any reimbursements, said the county’s Emergency Services Manager Rick Kovar.

Other counties, like Santa Clara, said they will be able to completely cover their road repairs with their own funds, but still intend to seek state and federal reimbursements. Local governments must first make damage assessments before aid requests are sent to the federal government. As of Wednesday, a total of 41 counties are now covered under an emergency declaration from the White House.

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Crashes and Disasters | San Lorenzo Valley floodwater recedes, leaving heavy cleanup Crashes and Disasters | President Biden to tour Central Coast storm damage with Gov. Newsom Crashes and Disasters | ACE train service cancelled until Monday after more mudslides at Niles Canyon Crashes and Disasters | Monterey County officials estimate at least $30 million in storm damages Crashes and Disasters | All Santa Cruz County evacuation orders, warnings lifted According to California’s Office of Emergency Services spokesperson Brian Ferguson, the state is working with local governments to tally up the damages so they can maximize federal dollars before allocating state dollars. He said that of the total aid requests, usually 75 percent is covered by the federal government, while the state pays a fourth of the remaining chunk.

But for local governments, the hundreds of millions in damages from this round of storms may just be the beginning.

“This is the new normal,” said Contra Costa County’s Kovar during a public meeting on Tuesday. “Which is a term that gets thrown about. But that’s what California’s gonna see. We’re gonna see droughts. And we’re gonna see floods.”

Staff writers Shomik Mukherjee, Judith Prieve and Aldo Toledo contributed reporting for this story.

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