County hires contractors to clear creek debris, fix levee

Congressman Jimmy Panetta is interviewed by the break in the levy along Pacheco Creek that led to the flooding. Photo by Nick Lovejoy

San Benito County hired two contractors to clear debris from Pacheco Creek and fix the broken levee after recent storms created problems for local residents.

The two hired contractors are Watsonville-based Granite Construction and Salinas-based Don Chapin Co. Granite Construction will handle clearing debris piles from Pacheco Creek, while Don Chapin Company will handle fixing the levee, according to County Office of Emergency Services Manager Kevin O’Neill. As of Feb. 1, excavators are already in the area and starting to pull debris out of the creek.

Recent rainfall and flooding in previous weeks caused the county to declare a local emergency due to flooding in the Lovers Lane area. Shortly after, Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed a State of Emergency for the county.

County inspection teams discovered a Pacheco Creek levee breach Jan. 12 northeast of the bridge on Lovers Lane. According to the Office of Emergency Services, the breach is located on private property and is around 100-feet long by 50-feet deep. Spillover from the Pacheco Reservoir also contributed to the flooding.

At a Tuesday night meeting, county officials met with residents affected by the storms and announced the hiring.

“Overall, it went pretty well,” O’Neill said by phone Wednesday. “We were able to hear a lot of concerns and get feedback from residents. Some are understandably upset with a lot of things, why the flooding happened to begin with and some breakdowns in communication. But I think we helped bridge those gaps last night by giving information, clarifying information, as well as receiving information.”

Supervisor Mark Medina said Thursday that communication between residents and the county needs to be better.

“We as a county, and myself as a supervisor, need to communicate to our residents in a more clear fashion,” Medina said. “We need to listen to them and at the same time provide them with information that is good and is bad. Everyone wants to hear good news, but no one wants to hear bad news. We have to provide that information whether it’s good or bad.”

The county is focused on clearing out the debris piles, O’Neill said.

“So there’s really two issues: the historical issue and lack of maintenance in the creek, which we could point fingers all day long,” he said. “And then there’s these buildups that have caused blockages, which because of the large amounts of rain have exacerbated the lack of maintenance.”

Medina said he’d like to bring back a committee that used to meet and talk about flood control in the region.

“I want to bring that organization back so we have feedback from local residents,” Medina said. “My district is geographically large. And with me being new to the board I need feedback and information from the residents. They’re the boots on the ground. They know what we’ve done in the past and what we need to do in the future.”

The fact that the creek is located on private property exacerbates the issue, as does the cost, O’Neill said.

“The other piece is that it’s not cheap; hundreds of thousands of dollars at this point,” he said. “It’s a struggle and we have no guarantee the state or the (federal government) are going to reimburse us. It’s tough as a county because we have a lot of issues. Our roads before this were a mess. We’ve got to deal with the immediate threat, which is the debris piles.”

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