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Materials Exchange Program in the Works as Flood Cleanup Continues in Montecito

The county urges private property owners to follow guidelines and says debris removal in public areas is about 50 percent complete

A Montecito resident and a Bucket Brigade volunteer work their way toward a chair stuck in the mud after the Jan. 9 flash flooding and mud flows. Click to view larger
A Montecito resident and a Bucket Brigade volunteer work their way toward a chair stuck in the mud after the Jan. 9 flash flooding and mud flows. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

While Montecito residents are eager to remove debris from their homes after the Jan. 9 flash flooding and mud flows, Santa Barbara County officials have advised property owners to follow debris removal guidelines and have suggested transfer plans.

Crews from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District are continuing to clear drainage basins, creeks, stream channels and public roads clogged by the Jan. 9 storm.

Rob Lewin, director of the county Office of Emergency Management, said Thursday evening that debris removal in public areas is about 50 percent complete.

“The mountains and canyons are still loaded with rock, sediment and other debris,” Lewin said during a news conference at Montecito Fire Station No. 1.

The debris cleared from the basins and creeks is trucked to a quarry in Buellton, according to Lewin, and materials from public rights of way are taken to a facility where they are dumped and sorted.

The soil is taken to the beach, and vegetation is chipped for “future utilization,” he said.

Removing materials from private property continues in the Montecito area, and Lewin noted the high fees for hauling debris.

The county is developing a materials exchange program that will allow property owners who want to dispose of rocks and soil to connect with those who desire the materials. The plan is expected to launch on the county’s website in the coming weeks.

Some materials on private property can be dumped at landfill facilities, according to Lewin.

Testing has been conducted on sample sites throughout the debris flow area in Montecito, he said.

“The soil that was deposited on people’s property was randomly tested in 10 locations, and in all cases, the soil test indicated it was suitable for domestic use in landscapes,” he said. “It may also have use on farm fields.”

He called the sandstone rocks in the Montecito mountains “beautiful” and said they “may have value as building material.”

“This exchange will provide an opportunity for people to benefit,” Lewin said. “The county will not be involved in the exchange. This is a market-driven process. We are merely providing the platform.”

Lewin said county officials have asked for permission from the state to expand the capacity of the county-owned and -operated Tajiguas Landfill to allow for additional debris to be dumped at the facility and to ensure that the “lifespan of the landfill for regular waste is not reduced.” 

Emergency officials also are considering other alternatives for owners of private property who want to dispose of materials.

“We are continuing to look to our Ventura County neighbors to determine if there are mining sites … that would accept the material,” Lewin said. “We are trying to find a large piece of property in the community to create a temporary transfer station so we can separate the material and provide a place for people to take that material to locations close by.”

Debris left behind by the severe storm could be utilized on the property to reduce the vulnerability if future weather events cause dangerous flooding and debris flows, Lewin said.

“We are encouraging people to find innovative ways to keep the material on their property, both in the short term and long term, to work with their engineers and architects to find ways to improve the property with the material on-site,” he said. 

Residents are reminded that mud and debris should not be piled in creek beds or water channels, Lewin said. 

The county's new website — readysbc.org — has additional information about debris removal on private property.

The county Public Health Department’s toxic material team has removed identifiable hazardous materials from the disaster zones in Montecito, according to the county’s website.

Property owners who find hazardous waste are urged to contact Environmental Health Services at 805.346.8489. 

The county advises residents who find personal items or human remains among the debris to call the Santa Barbara County Emergency Dispatch Center at 805.683.2724.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, in collaboration with county partners, remains steadfast in its commitment to help return the community of Montecito to normalcy as soon as possible, according to sheriff's spokeswoman Kelly Hoover.

Unless the homes have been red-tagged as uninhabitable, property owners may occupy their residences in the declared disaster zone, according to the sheriff’s office. Property owners and renters will be permitted into some areas of Montecito with proof of residence.

Contractors and guests of homeowners may be granted access with proof of official business in the area.

While there remains a significant police presence to provide security in the area, law enforcement officials request that property owners take additional action to secure their property in preparation for the disaster zone declaration to be lifted. 

The sheriff’s office has provided the following tips for securing property:

» Fencing taller than 8 feet requires a county permit.

» Keep fencing close to structures to avoid creating a dam effect in future storms.

» Keep fencing out of and away from waterways.

» Install security cameras.

» Install motion-activated outdoor lighting.

» Board up windows, doors and access points.

Additional disaster zone and property security information is available online at countyofsb.org and sbsheriff.org

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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