Emergency work in the Santa Maria River near Guadalupe has been completed ahead of schedule, under budget and, most importantly, before the rainy season.
On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution of commendation honoring R.W. Scott Construction Co. and Vince Lopez Jr. & Sons for their work to restore the river alignment while removing sediment and vegetation.
The supervisors approved the $8 million for the project in September, agreeing to pony up funding for the project” after the state and federal government didn’t provide money for efforts to avoid a repeat of flooding in and near Guadalupe.
The two firms, “both well respected family owned businesses based in the Santa Maria Valley, responded to the county’s emergency request for assistance when larger contractors did not, postponing previously scheduled work at great inconvenience,” according to the resolution.
“We had a huge challenge,” said Public Works Director Scott McGolpin. “We had about six weeks to move about a million cubic yards of earth, and they were on it. They just did a phenomenal job.”
Showing just how much dirt they moved, a 1 million cubic yard structure the size of a football field would be 468.75 feet tall, according to Lael Wageneck, Public Works Department spokesman.
The Washington Monument is 555 feet tall, he added.
The sediment helped create an unengineered stockpile berm on the south side of the river.
The “monumental task” involved clearing the huge amount of accumulated sediment and debris, and reshaping over four miles of riverbed before the Nov. 1 deadline.
The two firms “procured resources from across the state, and performed work on a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week basis to insure the county’s success to save the City of Guadalupe,” the resolution noted.
The county allocated up $8 million for the project, but had spent just less than $5 million. However, the total will climb since mitigation measures and other expenses remain.
Heavy rains earlier this year caused the Santa Maria River to breach its banks and send water into a Guadalupe neighborhood, nearby farmland, other houses, and the city’s wastewater treatment plant, which could not avoid releasing effluent into the river and ocean.
The wayward river channel also severely damaged several segments of the road, approximately one-quarter of a mile, leading to the beach west of Guadalupe and a private sand plant near the beach.
While a levee protects Santa Maria and east Guadalupe neighborhoods from the river, that structure does not extend west of Highway 1, leaving other areas susceptible to severe flooding.
Federal officials have said they won’t fund a levee because of the cost-benefit ratio.
In addition to the contractors performing the emergency work, McGolpin introduced his department’s employees who worked to choreograph equipment, monitor environmental compliance, conduct needed surveys, and more.
The Santa Barbara County Fire Department also supplied a brush crew to remove vegetation in the riverbed.
“Keep in mind, all of these people have normal daytime jobs, including the contractors. We’re getting the county ready for El Niño this winter. They just all stepped up and said let’s get this job done and get the rest of the county ready for El Niño. Just an outstanding effort. Huge team effort,” McGolpin said.
Some work remains to be done because the mitigation program required for environmental compliance will continue over the next 18 months, McGolpin said.
The team still needs to plant willows on the sand berm and finish installing irrigation, a key step to reduce erosion, according to Cory Bantilan, chief of staff for Fifth District county Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.
By the time the mitigation measures have been done, officials expect the entire river realignment project will add up to $6.5 million, Bantilan added.
While the resolution noted the firms, the supervisors also spotlighted Wendy Motta, aide to Rep. Salud Carbajal, and Bantilan.
“The people of Guadalupe can sleep a lot better at night knowing you guys did your job,” Lavagnino said to the those involved.
County Chief Executive Officer Mona Miyasato recalled a heated exchange between her and McGolpin about the project.
“Part of it was I didn’t believe we could get it done, and he proved me wrong,” Miyasato said, adding thanks to McGolpin and Walter Rubalcava, who leads the Water Resources Division.
“He said, ‘Sometimes you have to take risks to do the right thing,’ so thank you Scott,” Miyasato said.
Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson also noted Lavagino’s leadership along with the united approach taken to get the work done amid skepticism from residents and farmers alike.
“This is definitely one of the things that is momentous in our county, and it should be something that we look to in the future as the way we all stepped up together and really in this case was one county, one future, so thank you to the whole team,” Nelson said.