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Local News

Heavy Rains Cause Significant Damage to Santa Barbara County Roads

Officials issue second emergency declaration of the season for storm-related losses

Alisal Road near Solvang is closed south of town due to major road damage caused by last week’s major storm. Click to view larger
Alisal Road near Solvang is closed south of town due to major road damage caused by last week’s major storm. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Recent rains washed out big chunks of roadways in three northern Santa Barbara County locations, and those likely won’t re-open anytime soon. 

Damage to roads, the Goleta Pier and more due to severe storms last week led county officials on Wednesday to proclaim a local emergency, citing heavy rains and winds Feb. 16 through 18. 

This marks the second storm-caused emergency proclamation issued by the county this winter. 

County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato signed the proclamation, which is expected to be ratified by the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday in Santa Barbara. 

The local emergency declaration is the first step toward asking the state and federal governments for assistance for the storm that caused, by preliminary assessments, approximately $7.4 million in damage. 

This is in addition to about $7 million in damage to private and public property from the January storms.

“Following years of drought and below-average rainfall, we have encountered a succession of severe winter storms that are the source of destruction to public infrastructure and a threat to the safety of our communities,” said Joan Hartmann, chair of the Board of Supervisors. “We recognize the importance of not only continuing our efforts to deal with these ongoing emergencies, but also to ask for vital state and federal assistance.” 

Lompoc-Casmalia Road near Lompoc, the Orcutt-Garey Road east of Santa Maria, and Alisal Road in Solvang all sustained significant damage, with all three deemed impassable.

A large section of Alisal Road south of Solvang was washed away by last week’s major storm, causing closuring of the road. Click to view larger
A large section of Alisal Road south of Solvang was washed away by last week’s major storm, causing closuring of the road. (Santa Barbara County Public Works photo)

"It’s more damage than we get in just a normal rain storm,” said Chris Sneddon, the county's deputy transportation director. “There’s lot of work still to do when it dries out.” 

Road blocks are in place, advising drivers who don’t always follow heed the closures.

This could be dangerous since Orcutt-Garey Road, for instance, appears to have solid pavement, but actually doesn’t have any support underneath, Sneddon said. 

Alisal has similar condition with the road undermined underneath.

“Even sometimes when you see pavement still there that doesn’t mean there’s strength underneath to take traffic,” Sneddon said.

Sneddon is hesitant to attach a price tag to the countywide road damage, but estimated permanent repairs could add up to $2 million, a number that could rise or fall with better engineering and other data.

County roads in the South County also have moderate to minor road damage, along with storm clean up including Refugio Road on both sides.

Damage is balanced between the northern and southern sections of the county, he added. 

“Sometimes you get more in the north, or more in the south and it’s got a fair amount in both,” Sneddon said. 

A full list of road closure and conditions can be found on the agency website.

“We still do have damage sites coming in as we go around making our assessments,” Sneddon said. “So the list, at this point, is not shrinking. It’s still growing with things we’re adding.”

Alisal Road is closed between Alisal Cattle Ranch and Highway 101. The closure could span several weeks due to the need to reconstruct a storm drain system and rebuild the roadway. 

“Lompoc-Casmalia and Orcutt-Garey are both bigger scale projects,” Sneddon said.

Before repairs can begin, the county needs to come up with funding for the projects.

The collapsed section of Lompoc-Casmalia Road is used to access the satellite tracking station on Bishop Road at Vandenberg Air Force Base. 

That means workers now must travel to the Santa Maria Valley and Casmalia to access the site, adding dozens of miles for those traveling from the Lompoc Valley or main section of the base. 

Sneddon has consulted the U.S. Air Force regarding help to repair the road, which belongs to the county.

Before winter rains arrive each year, Sneddon said, crews clean the inlets, inspect culverts and perform other chores to prevent damage as much as possible.

However, a number of factors worked against the road crews.

‘It’s a combination of a lot of rain in a really short, intense period,” Sneddon said. “We definitely also have aging infrastructure, so some of the culverts that were installed 50-plus years ago are starting to rust out and lose their strength, and that contributes to it as well.”

With many weeks left in the rainy season residents, resident are urged to be prepared and sign up for emergency alerts at

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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