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Before winter rains arrive, Sonoma County commences repair work for flood-damaged west county roads

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Earlier this year, Guerneville, Monte Rio and Cazadero area residents found themselves cut off from the rest of Sonoma County — inland islanders amid the worst flood in west county in more than two decades.

Repairs scheduled soon for some of the roads affected by those floodwaters will again limit residents’ options for exodus, and Sonoma County officials, aware the roadwork could lead to potential frustration, are assuring residents that it will be worth it in the end.

“On many of the sites, there’s a concern we could lose the roadway,” said Janice Thompson, deputy director of engineering and maintenance for Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works. “We’re trying to fortify these sites before being hit by a harsh winter.”

Heavy winter rains led to countywide flooding in 2017 and more localized, but severe, flooding in west county earlier this year. The county is still recovering from both.

Officials recently revised infrastructure damage estimates for the 2019 flooding, saying they could now top $56 million for 51 projects. The flooding caused 100 landslides and slipouts and damaged more than 2,000 buildings and homes.

Slipouts involve soil erosion from beneath a road, while landslides involve soil coming from a slope onto a road.

The revised estimates, along with the project list, were part of the county’s pitch for Federal Emergency Management Agency recovery funds, but county officials aren’t holding their breath waiting for FEMA as they did in 2017. They instead have launched emergency work on Coleman Valley, King Ridge and Moscow roads ahead of the coming winter to protect already vulnerable roads and bridges.

“We did not do this in 2017,” Thompson said, calling it a lesson learned. “The permanent repair takes three to five years, and we’re still recovering from the 2017 flood. So in an effort to try and get some repairs done a little quicker, we’re looking at winterization.”

Far from adding insulation around windows and door frames, winterizing infrastructure implies fortifying damaged areas to withstand upcoming weather.

Thompson gave a couple of specific examples: On Moscow Road, crews will locate and clean out a buried culvert, as the blockage could cause buildup of water and weaken the road. On King Ridge Road, crews will work to build retaining walls to keep the earth at bay.

Santa Rosa-based Argonaut Constructors will complete the work, estimated to cost $6 million, by the end of January.

That’s none too soon for Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the flood-ravaged west county and called the repair timelines to date “unacceptable.”

“This is something I have been pushing very hard for,” Hopkins said. “How can we actually get a fairly complete repair in as short a time as possible?”

Hopkins doesn’t blame the county’s Transportation and Public Works Department, instead pointing at state and federal officials and the three-pronged negotiations process.

In many ways, Hopkins said, flooding has taken a bigger toll on public infrastructure than the county’s historic fires in 2017 and 2019.

But they aren’t necessarily treated with the same urgency by state and federal officials, she said.

“(With) these bigger infrastructure pieces, the solutions are harder to come by,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins worries about construction reducing roads to one lane, citing the possibility that residents would have to evacuate on less-than-ideal roads. Moscow Road won’t open for three years, while other roads will be out of service for a couple months.

“It’s important,” Hopkins said. “We’ve seen the risks of not doing it on Cazadero Highway. It has caused a tremendous amount of community anxiety. It’s not fully functioning, and it’s at risk of continuing to slide.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com.

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