Valley News -

By PAUL J YOUNG
Special to Anza Valley Outlook 

Supervisors proclaim emergency to procure post-storm assistance

 

Last updated 3/7/2019 at 6:53pm



To enable Riverside County to receive state and federal aid, the county Board of Supervisors formally declared a local emergency resulting from the storm that damaged infrastructure and prompted evacuations, Feb. 14.

“It was a very significant, very rare storm,” Jason Uhley, director of the county Flood Control & Water Conservation, said to the board. “The scope and size of the damage was extensive. No area was spared.”

The board’s proclamation comes on the heels of one issued by Bruce Barton, director of the Office of Emergency Services, immediately after the Valentine’s Day storm.

In order for the county to apply for disaster relief funding from the state and federal governments, the board, as the county’s governing body, must affirm a previous emergency declaration with one of its own.

According to Barton, 18 county agencies were involved in the storm response, beginning the night of Feb. 13 and continuing into the night of Feb. 15, with officials “putting in tireless hours to take care of our residents.”

Uhley said the one-day precipitation amounts spread countywide were “the most significant since 2010, or possibly 2005.”

“Our facilities performed as expected,” he said. “We protected our communities. But there were a lot of roads flooded, and there was damage to low water crossings not designed for this type of event.”

Segments of state Route 243 between Idyllwild and Mountain Center collapsed during the downpours, while a whole section of state Route 74 between Hemet and Mountain Center also fell through. The southbound side of Highway 111 in Palm Springs sustained major damage.

The routes are undergoing repairs expected to take over a month and cost well in excess of $10 million. All of Route 243 between Pine Cove and Banning is shut down, and the accessible portion of the highway between Idyllwild and Mountain Center is available exclusively to residents and business owners.

Highway 74 is closed between Valle Vista and Mountain Center, leaving the Lake Hemet side of the highway open for limited travel. Highway 111 is partially open, but has been reconfigured for two-lane travel, instead of four.

Roads that normally provide access to the popular Palm Springs tram are out of service, and the tram is closed.

Some homes and mobile home parks were damaged during the inclement weather, but no properties were completely lost during the storm, according to officials. At least one person drowned, and multiple swift-water rescues were carried out.

According to Uhley, about 60,000 county residents were either under an evacuation order or an advisory at the height of the storm. Most of the mandatory evacuations occurred in the Temescal Valley, bordering the eastern side of the Cleveland National Forest, where an arson blaze last August denuded terrain, allowing water, mud and debris flows to go unchecked into subdivisions.

Uhley estimated that composite damage to area infrastructure, mainly transportation corridors, was close to $50 million.

He said 35,000 pounds of mud and debris must still be cleared from culverts, canals and basins countywide.

“We’re not letting our guard down,” he told the board. “We have to remain vigilant. We’re expecting a bit of a rainy March.”

Jeffries said he was concerned that the flood control department will end up emptying accounts reserved for future infrastructure projects to cover the cost of post-storm cleanup and repairs.

“We’re in need of more facilities. But with the path we’re on, flood control is going to have to borrow, basically rob Peter to pay Paul, and that’s not going to serve the county well,” the board chairman said. “We can’t ignore this, and we shouldn’t continue to issue building permits for construction in or near these flood channels.”

 

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