Getting Orr Springs Road reopened is a priority for Mendocino County Transportation Director Howard Dashiell, but he warns that making sure the solution will be safe is paramount.
Orr Springs Road, oddly enough, is part of the Federal Highway System, as it connects major thoroughfares in the county. That means Dashiell can appeal for special federal funds for repairs. But that doesn’t mean the process will be any faster.
While Dashiell could not predict when the road might reopen, he estimates the cost of fixing it will be in the $1.5 million range, based on work done in 2006 in a similar situation on Eel River Road which cost around $1 million.
The solution will likely be a temporary bridge of some kind (you could Google “Bailey Bridge” for an idea). Dashiell said the trick will be assessing the stability of what’s underneath the pavement.
“I can’t see under the ground any farther than you can,” Dashiell said. Once the ground under the Orr Springs Road pavement stabilizes somewhat, (and the washout hole got even bigger overnight, encompassing all of one lane and most of the other) crews will need to poke around, “sneak up on it,” and drill into the soil to see what’s underneath and if it can hold heavy equipment.
He said he is working “as fast as I can,” not only on coming up with engineering for a solution, but also crossing all the t’s and dotting all the ‘i’s on emergency and environmental documents needed. And that’s not even all the paperwork that goes with trying to get funding for it.
“The money is the least of my worries right now,” he said.
He said he knows people who live on the other side of the washout are terribly inconvenienced but he can’t do anything that won’t be safe.
“I’m not going to open that road until I feel safe to let my wife and daughter go across,” he said.
Dashiell said other federal system county roads with severe damage are Mountain View Road and the Branscomb Road. Other county roads closed right now due to storm damage include Peachland Road at milepost .95 in Boonville, the Laytonville-Dos Rios Road at milepost 4.19 and Mallard Street between Hawk Road and Poppy Drive in Brooktrails. There are no estimates for reopening for any of those either.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration and Caltrans staff were in the county Tuesday and Wednesday looking at damage. They are assessing damage for January storms, much of which got worse with more storms this month, including the latest weekend storms.
Among the damage they’re looking at is severe damage at the Point Arena Cove, where the parking lot washed out and one-ton boulders washed up.
Dashiell estimates road damages just in the month of January are between $5 million and $7 million. The Orr Springs problem is a separate February event. The way funding works, usually about 75% of funds are provided through federal monies and the local jurisdiction pays 25%, although sometimes the state will help with that portion.
The vast majority of the damage thus far in January and February is to County roads. There’s also some debris removal costs, and the city of Ukiah has asked for emergency funds for some equipment damage and damage to sports fields.
The basic idea of how the process works is the local government sends its damage information to the state, then the state sends it on to federal agencies. Disaster declarations must be made at each level.
Part of the complication of getting things assessed and paid for, is that each storm is a new event with new paperwork.
Rick Ehlert, county Emergency Services Coordinator, explained that often a storm will damage a road, but then the next storm makes it worse and the next worse still. But as you get funding for the first storm, you need to figure out how to get paid for all the subsequent damage as well.
He said FEMA is usually pretty good at allowing the funding stream to continue as estimates change over time with subsequent storms. FEMA funding has been announced for the storms of Jan. 3-12. FEMA is now in the county looking at damage from storms between Jan. 18-23, and more emergency declarations are likely for February storms as well.
(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)