In July, a series of thunderstorms produced some of the most intense flooding, and subsequent road damage, that Inyo County has experienced in decades. On Tuesday, Aug. 13, Assistant to the County Administrator Kelley Williams presented the Board of Supervisors with an update regarding the “Gully Washer Emergency.” Williams reported a current assessment of $1.4 million in damage to roads in Inyo County, including roads eligible for both federal and state Emergency Relief Funding (ERF).
Many of the damaged roads qualify for ERF through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which requires a threshold of $700,000 in assessed damage. The County is also seeking state funding through the California Disaster Assistance Act (CDAA). However, Governor Brown must issue an emergency proclamation in order for either of these funding sources to consider granting funds to Inyo County.
Here’s where things get tricky.
While waiting for the Governor’s proclamation, and hoping for Emergency Relief through FHWA, the County can’t touch the roads that will have to be completely rebuilt until the FHWA can conduct an assessment of the damage. However, Williams said, the CDAA “is trying to make the County be proactive in repairing roads. We’re between a rock and a hard place.”
Caltrans Deputy District Director Brian Winzenread said that the County can conduct an emergency opening on damaged roads to get the roads open and passable without fully restoring them to their pre-storm state. “Emergency opening could be a dirt detour, grading a shoulder, or it may require special signage and so forth,” he said. “It’s not a permanent fix.” According to Winzenread, the County’s emergency opening expenditures would be eligible for 100% FHWA reimbursement, if completed within 180 days. Permanent restoration would be eligible for 88.53% reimbursement through FHWA, with a local match of 11.47%.
But if Governor Brown refuses to proclaim a State of Emergency, the County won’t qualify for any federal or state Emergency Relief Funds.
The County hopes this won’t be the case, as the Gully Washer Emergency has already far surpassed last August’s Roadeater Emergency, which was valued at about $200,000, Williams said. This year, the damage to Division Creek Road alone will cost an estimated $200,000 to repair, said Inyo County Road Superintendent Bob Brown. “This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” he said of the washed out, boulder-strewn road. “You couldn’t tell where the old road was any longer.”
The July storms also severely damaged North Saline Valley Road, Brown reported. The road drops off into a 25 to 30-foot deep hole. North and South Saline Valley Roads will cost the County a good deal to repair, Brown said, because of the scarcity of local material to fix the damage. The County is looking into developing new borrow pits to provide material, Brown said. But if the County gets the go-ahead from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), “It won’t be cheap,” he said.
The worst damage sustained was at Panamint Valley/Trona Wildrose Road, Brown said. He reported destroyed road foundations, holes in the pavement, and rocks in the roadway for 16 miles of road. “In the almost 30 years I’ve been here, this is the worst I’ve seen out in this area,” he said. He explained to the Board that the old road would have to be excavated, a new base material installed, and the road rebuilt. He estimated the cost at $800,000, “But that’s just off the cuff,” he said. “It could cost quite a bit more.” Part of that cost would be a new requirement by the BLM to have an archeologist on site during construction.
Altogether, Brown estimated $1.4 million in damage to roads eligible for FHWA funding, as well as an additional $335,000 in damage to County roads which would not be eligible for FHWA Emergency Relief Funds.
Considering Winzenread’s suggestion to begin some emergency opening work, Supervisor Matt Kingsley wondered about the County’s risk factor putting its own funds into the work before the Governor’s proclamation. “It’s going to cost a lot of money, even to get Trona Wildrose halfway open,” he said. Winzenread’s response was that the County didn’t have much of a choice; “Either way, something has to be done,” he said. Supervisor Linda Arcularius replied, “Yeah, it’s only double our road fund.”
That road fund, reserved for emergencies like this one, in addition to being used as cash flow to current County road projects, is currently $1 million, according to Inyo County Administrator Kevin Carunchio. The entire Road Department budget, already programmed for this fiscal year is $5.6 million.
Winzenread, Williams and Brown could offer the Board no estimate of when the Governor might respond to the County’s assessment of road damage.
Caltrans has passed the County’s information on to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Winzenread said. “They’re the funnel to get the [emergency] proclamation,” he said. “Everything is on their desk.”