It's on us. Share your news here.

Leaders Vent Frustration for Long-delayed Pajaro River Levee Project

Posted on October 31, 2016

By Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Frustration levels ran high Wednesday afternoon as elected leaders came together for an annual discussion on a decades-long effort to improve Pajaro River flood control safety.

The river’s levees in and around Watsonville were first built in 1949, with major breaches and flooding occurring in 1955, 1958, 1995 and 1998. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers first received initial federal support to rebuild a 12-mile stretch of the levee from Murphy Road to the mouth of the river at Pajaro Dunes in 1995.

“What the people of this community need is protection, and protection and more protection and they’re not getting it. They’re getting a lot of run-around with stalling and delay,” said Watsonville City Councilman Lowell Hurst. “This has been a big problem for a long, long time.”

Outgoing Rep. Sam Farr addressed a 23-member panel bringing together local representatives from four counties, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, municipal flood control staff members and the two candidates running to replace him on Nov. 8, Casey Lucius and Jimmy Panetta. Farr, calling the setbacks “remarkable,” said he had plans to get the levees raised back during the Clinton Administration, and the failure to do so was one of his great frustrations in his 23 years in Congress.

“The rules have changed a lot since the whole project started,” Farr said. “But I think this whole room is sick and tired of charts and wants to see dirt, not charts.”

Hosted by the Pajaro River Watershed Flood Prevention Authority, the annual conference included an update from the Corps’ San Francisco office by Maj. James Boyette, whose last day was Wednesday.

Boyette said the effort’s vacant project manager position will be filled Nov. 1, and that a senior team from the Sacramento Corps’ office was brought on board to oversee the project. A policy paper reconsidering the project’s heavier focus on flood control for the Monterey County side of the Pajaro River has been completed and is under review, he added. A draft version of an environmental review of the project may be released publicly as early as July, said Army Corps representative Joél Flannery.

Farr chided the Corps representatives, saying the district office needed to request federal funding and not leave it solely to lawmakers.

Santa Cruz County Flood Control Manager Bruce Laclergue, who retires in April after a lengthy amount of time spent on the project, said that local agencies who have matched federal grants and even undertaken their own flood control projects are angry about the project’s more than 20-year timeline and a potential additional two years spent approving a project plan. With $16 million of federal and local funding invested in the effort since 1993 and full project funding approved in 2015, Laclergue turned some of the blame toward the Army Corps of Engineers’ continual staffing turnover.

“It’s our understanding as sponsors that the level of flood protection with 90 percent confidence intervals on the Pajaro River is the lowest level of flood protection of any federal project in California,” Laclergue said.

Some work was done in a $8.3 million state- and locally-funded “bench” sediment excavation project about three years ago to help alleviate flooding along the river during winter storms. Santa Cruz County Supervisor Greg Caput said there has been significant improvement since the interim project was completed.

“I guess we bought some time, but we’re talking about the big picture, the 100-year plan, maybe even the 50-year plan,” Caput said.

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel

It's on us. Share your news here.
Submit Your News Today

Join Our
Click to Subscribe