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County facing $2 million in road damages

August 2, 2013

Road crews survey the extensive damage to Trona Wildrose Road, where entire sections were washed out by flash flooding on July 22 and July 28. The county is hoping to tap into state and federal funding to help with repairs. Photo courtesy County of Inyo

A clearer picture of the damage done by recent thunderstorms is being revealed – and it’s not pretty.
More than a dozen roads on national forest, national park and county land are either temporarily closed or were rendered completely impassable by two separate storms over a one-week period.
The County of Inyo alone, according to Administrator Kevin Carunchio, is looking at an estimated $1.2 million in repairs.
“That’s conservative,” he said of the preliminary estimate, noting it could “easily go up to “$2 million.”
The county’s road department, specifically interim Public Works Director Doug Wilson (who officially hands the reins over to new director Clint Quilter Monday) and Road Superintendent Bob Brown, is in the midst of a thorough inventory of the damage: what type of damage was done to what sections and where, and what types of repair work are needed and when.
A detailed presentation of the findings will be given to the Board of Supervisors at its Aug. 13 meeting, but again, the preliminary outlook isn’t exactly rosy.
“I don’t think we have that much money in our road repair budget,” Carunchio said.
The county is hoping – but not holding its breath – to be able to tap into state Office of Emergency Services and possibly federal funding.
The first step in gaining access to this funding was proclaiming a local state of emergency, which Carunchio did Friday, July 27, on the basis that the county doesn’t have the resources required to properly address the situation. The Board met in special session Tuesday to ratify the proclamation and will re-ratify it, after changes were made at the suggestion of the state, this coming Tuesday, Aug. 6.
The main cost factor facing the county, Carunchio explained, is lack of access to borrow pits in Death Valley, which means materials for repairs will have to be trucked to the sites over considerable distances and at great cost. They will also have to be certified weed-free, and invasive weed monitoring programs may even have to be established. He also noted the Public Works Department was still in the midst of repairing roads in the desert that were damaged by the August 2012 “Roadeater” storm when the July 22 and July 28 thunderstorms took their toll.
The governor has 30-60 days to decide whether the situation in Inyo County qualifies as a local emergency. Carunchio noted Gov. Jerry Brown doesn’t have a track record of looking kindly upon Inyo’s proclamations, including the Center Fire in Big Pine that destroyed 5% of the homes in that community. “That was a shocker,” when he denied that emergency request, Carunchio said.
And the county understands that time is of the essence.
“They may be dirt roads, but they’re also major thoroughfares in and out Death Valley,” Carunchio said, noting that Trona Wildrose Road alone – which had entire sections washed away – is used by 150-200 tourists a day going into Death Valley National Park.
In the meantime, county crews are focusing on reconnaissance and doing what minimal repairs they can without incurring overtime and without taking on any of the major work, which might have to be contracted out, Carunchio said.
The county is also focused on getting proper road-closure signage in place to prevent motorists from taking unnecessary risks.
Aside from Trona-Wildrose, county roads that sustained major damage from the storms include Panamint Valley Road and Saline Valley Road. The latter has a 40-foot deep by 50-foot wide hole in the roadway, according to Sheriff Bill Lutze.
Other roads damaged and currently closed (partially or in their entirety) include Death Valley Road, North Eureka Valley Road, Mazourka Canyon Road, Haiwee Canyon Road and Division Creek Road.
Out in Death Valley National Park, the Park Service reported the partial or whole closure of Badwater Road, Cottonwood Canyon Road, Emigrant Canyon Road, Harry Wade Road, Keane Wonder Road, Mosaic Canyon Road and Mustard Canyon Road.
In the Mt. Whitney Ranger District of Inyo National Forest, the storms “caused damage to several roads, trails, and other infrastructure,” according to a press release.
In particular, the several inches of rain that fell caused “landslides, debris flows and major rock fall” that left some roads impassable to all vehicles and others only accessible by 4WD.
In addition, washouts have left two trails, Shepherd’s Pass and Taboose Pass, “impassable to stock and very difficult for hikers and backpackers,” the press release states. “The Inyo National Forest is working with Inyo County, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and Southern California Edison to inventory the damage, make repairs and make roads and trails passable again as quickly as possible.”
Besides Mazourka Canyon and Haiwee Canyon Road, areas on the Inyo National Forest with known damage , according to the press release, include:
Haiwee Pass Road and Trail – Road and trail are temporarily closed. There is major damage to the road, trailhead and trail.
Wyman Canyon Road – Road is impassable to passenger vehicles and very difficult to travel for off-highway vehicles.
Foothill Road – Sections of the road are impassable to passenger vehicles as a result of wash outs at Shepherd Creek and the North Fork of Bairs Creek.
“Temporary road closures are in place on roads where all types of vehicles, including motorcycles, will be unable to pass and in areas where loose rock and debris are creating potential safety hazards to the public,” the press release states. “To protect public safety and to expedite repair efforts, the U.S. Forest Service is asking the public not to enter these closed areas or any area posted with a temporary closure where road work and repairs may be taking place.”
For more information and updates, call the Interagency Visitor Center at (760) 876-6200 or stop by Visitor Center at the junction of state routes 136 and 395.

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