A $13.5 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been awarded to the Santa Barbara County Flood Control & Water Conservation District to purchase several properties along Randall Road for a new Montecito debris basin, according to Congressman Salud Carbajal’s office.
The proposed debris basin near Randall Road and Highway 192 would be built on about eight acres along San Ysidro Creek, an area that was significantly damaged in the catastrophic Jan. 9, 2018, debris flows. The debris flows destroyed several homes along the 1700 block of East Valley Road and Randall Road, and four of the 23 Montecito residents killed in the disaster resided along San Ysidro Creek.
Construction of the Montecito debris basin is estimated to cost $18 million, Carbajal’s office said in a statement.
As a result of the grant approval, FEMA will provide 75% of the cost-share to assist with the project, a total of $13.5 million.
“It has taken years for our community to rebuild and recover from the Montecito debris flow,” Carbajal said. “We can, and should, honor the memories of those we lost that horrible day by doing everything possible to prevent future disasters.
“Wildfires and floods, fueled by climate change, are only getting worse over time, and we must adapt our infrastructure to reflect our reality. The new debris basin will go a long way toward that goal, and I’m proud of the collaborative work we’ve done across local, state and federal governments to secure the funding necessary to turn this project into a reality.”
Of the parcels that Santa Barbara County has agreement on, it will cost about $8.65 million, according to Tom Fayram, deputy public works director. He said there is one parcel left to acquire.
Santa Barbara County is continuing the design phase of the project, Fayram said, and construction is targeted to begin in summer 2021.
In August, the county Board of Supervisors approved the environmental impact report for the proposed debris basin in Montecito. The proposed project’s draft environmental impact report was released in May.
The county purchased one of the properties, 640 Randall Road, for $4 million in early May 2019. It’s only one of the eight Montecito properties with a habitable house on it, the county said last year.
The county in September 2019 authorized the design agreement with WRECO, the same firm that designed the Gobernador debris basin outlet control structure and is executing the San Ysidro debris basin improvement project upstream of the proposed debris basin on Randall Road.
Montecito was devastated when massive mud and debris flows ensued after the 281,893-acre Thomas Fire tore through the community. The blaze broke out Dec. 4, 2017, near Santa Paula, and swept through areas of Montecito and Carpinteria in Santa Barbara County.
Montecito debris flow survivor Curtis Skene first envisioned a debris basin project on Randall Road. His residence located below Randall Road was destroyed on Jan. 9, 2018, and he approached the nearby neighbors about the debris basin idea.
The county is prone to post-fire debris flows as a result of unstable slopes and weakened soil resulting from wildfires, according to Carbajal’s office.
The proposed debris basin on Randall Road will retain debris and large boulders to protect downstream structures and lives while protecting fish habitat and passage, the congressman’s office said.
“This debris basin will have more than four times the capacity of the current basin upstream, and will feature design elements to detain more trees and rocks,” First District County Supervisor Das Williams said in a statement. “Because of this and because it is at the best gradient in the watershed, this is the ideal project for increasing the protection of the community.
“I want to thank the families who are selling the land to us and the community supporters who have been advocating every step of the way.”