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Local News

County Officials Break Ground on Emergency Operations Center

The $7.4 million project at 4408 Cathedral Oaks Road should be up and running by early next year

It’s been talked about for more than a decade, but Santa Barbara County officials finally broke ground Friday at the site of a new emergency operations center.

The $7.4 million project, at 4408 Cathedral Oaks Road and approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors in January, will be a central location for officials during emergencies.

A grand jury report issued in April 2008 called for new emergency headquarters, and Supervisor Janet Wolf said the last three wildfires to hit Santa Barbara County have reinforced the need for the center.

“I began to see firsthand what miraculous work our first responders were doing out of a portable,” Wolf said of the current EOC, which consists of portable trailers.

“Everything just came together,” she said, adding that the project has benefited from an exceptional bidding market for construction.

Several nonprofit organizations, including the Orfalea Foundation, stepped forward to help fund the project and have donated $2 million toward the 11,000-square-foot facility.

The rest of the money — $5.4 million — will come from county funds set aside for an EOC by previous boards of supervisors.

The supervisors voted in January to have county staff explore options for the remaining money, which could include getting a loan and then paying the general monies back eventually via designated funds from the state.

“The support of the board has been exceptional,” said Michael Harris, county emergency operations chief. “Government will do, on a local level, what we can do,” adding that the rest is up to each resident to prepare for disasters. “Without that, this building remains just a building.”

Three members of the Goleta City Council attended Friday’s groundbreaking, as did a representative who served on the grand jury that documented the county’s need for an EOC.

“It was three construction trailers bolted and taped together,” county CEO Mike Brown said of the current EOC. He was quick to point out that the building still will be used every day, even when there isn’t a disaster.

Fire, water and sewer districts, as well as the county’s eight cities, will be able to use the facility.

“The board has been prudent fiscally,” Brown said. He said that although the full $7 million in costs have been set aside, interest rates are favorable now. He and county staff are exploring several financing options and will bring those back before the board for approval in about three weeks.

The project is scheduled to be completed in early 2011.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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