Storm damage to Sonoma County roads could top $25 million

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A state prison crew that fights wildfires in the summer was detailed Wednesday to a waterlogged Russian River hillside, one front in a widespread effort to repair the multi million-dollar damage done to Sonoma County roads by last week’s storm.

Eleven inmates from Delta Camp in Solano County, wearing bright yellow rain jackets and orange pants, cut a 450-foot ditch along one edge of Westside Avenue near Forestville, where an unstable slope posed a threat to the one-lane road, the only way in and out for about 70 residents. Authorities also temporarily condemned at least three homes deemed unsafe to occupy.

“I’ve been workin’ on the railroad,” one inmate sang briefly as he swung a cutting tool hard at a tree root in the 11000 block of Westside Avenue.

It is one of 40 to 50 sites countywide that sustained road damage during last week’s downpour and flood, including 20 where county Transportation and Public Works crews were active Wednesday.

Road damage estimates range from $23 million to $25 million, officials said, noting the figure changes daily as sites are evaluated. It accounts for most of the storm damage to public property.

The most visually striking blow to transportation is a landslide that buried a remote stretch of Skaggs Springs Road east of Annapolis under about 20 feet of dirt.

Johannes Hoevertsz, the transportation and public works director, said it is the largest slide in the county, with about 12,000 cubic yards of earth sweeping across the rural road and down a steep hill into the Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River.

Workers operating an excavator and a front end loader cut an emergency-only access road atop the slide on Wednesday. The road remains closed to the public.

Crews were also placing massive boulders on the bank of the Russian River near Geyserville, where the storm-swollen river has cut away earth to within about 15 feet of River Road.

“There’s over 400 residents who are sleeping better because they know the road will be there,” Hoevertsz said, asserting the boulders will mitigate the erosion that has been a concern for the past month.

River Road is the only way back to Geyserville and Highway 101 for those Alexander Valley residents.

Hoevertsz said roads have sustained three types of damage: slides, slips and culvert failures.

Dealing with slides is straightforward: “You clean it up, you muck it out, you’re good,” he said.

Slips involve movement of the road and require construction of a retaining wall to hold it in place.

County crews have been working 12-hour days since Feb. 26, when the atmospheric river struck with a fury, dropping 5.66 inches of rain in one day on Santa Rosa, breaking a record dating back to 1902.

All hands have been committed to major road damage, Hoevertsz said, but on Thursday he will shift half of the fieldworkers back to regular maintenance chores, including patching the outbreak of potholes throughout the county.

Brian Andriola, owner of one of the red-tagged homes on Westside Avenue, applauded the inmate crew’s handiwork as he watched clear water run down the freshly dug ditch.

“This is good,” he said. “Now the water has clear passage.”

But it is only a “temporary fix,” he noted, for residents living uneasily on the narrow road next to a steep slope, where numerous trees are leaning perilously downhill.

Two trees are slated for removal, but Hoevertsz said he wanted to be conservative because vegetation can hold the soil in place.

One large multi-trunked bay laurel crashed onto Andriola’s home on Feb. 27, striking within 10 feet of his partner, Dante Diaz, who was watching television news coverage of the weather.

The tree, with its upper limbs cut off, is still lying across the home’s rear deck.

Andriola said the internal damage — cracks in walls and doors skewed ajar as if shaken by an earthquake — will cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair.

The red tag posted on his home Friday cites “danger due to upslope soil movement.”

The tag on a home directly across the road says the structure “has been affected by soil movement on the uphill side,” warning of possible “danger of further movement.”

There was a large crack in the concrete pad in front of the home.

“It’s an active slide and the homes are still standing,” Andriola said.

Soil never crossed Westside Avenue, but the road was closed for several days because of concern that a large tree might fall on it, said Bob McNabb, who has lived on the road since 1981.

The pavement buckled, he said, and the neighborhood “was pretty alarmed.”

McNabb said he isn’t worried about the slide, which appears to end at the edge of his property.

Water runs quickly down the slope behind his house, but just above his lot the slope has a depression that retains water, creating what he called a “slip surface.”

County officials inspected the slope Wednesday and determined that a nearly acre-sized area had moved about 18 inches, measured at the bottom of the slide, jeopardizing four homes.

Experts will install instruments to measure the slope’s movement.

The county has red-tagged 35 structures, prohibiting occupancy, and placed yellow tags on 600 structures, requiring the owners to obtain permits to repair damage.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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