County failing to protect Oceano from flooding?
July 26, 2011
OPINION By JEFF EDWARDS
On July 19, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors heard a progress report from their Public Works Department regarding the drainage and flooding problems in Oceano. Unfortunately, with only a few short months remaining until winter rains begin, there will be no mitigation measures deployed.
Since December 2010, when homes and businesses where swamped with stormwater, including the Sanitation District facility, by a modest storm, the Public Works Department has staged a community workshop and presented at two Board of Supervisors meetings with little substantive progress.
The County has met with Cal Trans, State Parks, General Services (County Airport) and others, however again nothing of substance has resulted. Public Works has sole-sourced contracts with favored consultants to pursue prospective solutions. So far, the County has developed a scheme of pumps and pipelines to convey stormwater flow from low lying areas to Arroyo Grande Creek and the Pacific Ocean. In regulatory vernacular, this is considered a surface water discharge, which raises a stringent set of regulatory requirements imposed by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
What’s ironic is that the Public Works Department failed to attend to just one flap-gate at the Meadow Creek Lagoon in December last year, how do they intend to maintain and insure operations of multiple pumps and outfalls around town?
The other less-than-sophisticated engineering solution being developed by Public Works proposes to construct a berm around the hardest hit area of Oceano referred to as “the Island.” The berm around the beachside neighborhood would be reinforced with concrete K-Rail. K-Rail are concrete barricades seen on construction sites and freeways. This low tech solution may work, but the war-zone look is not conducive to maintaining property values. Are the residents of “the Island” rebuilding their homes only to be faced with further flooding and/or the visual blight of band-aid improvements?
Here are a number of facts to consider in pondering the flooding situation in Oceano:
1. Arroyo Grande Creek did not over top in December of last year or at all during the winter of 2010-11. Moreover, the Arroyo Grande Creek flood channel and proposed improvements are on an independent track in accordance with the Waterway Management Plan for permitting, financing and construction already approved by the Board.
2. The chronic flooding at Highway 1 and 13th Street has been solved (by Cal Trans). Now this water crosses the County Airport and flows into “the Island.”
3. The Public Works Department and their consultants will be paid during the extra process of study, hydraulic analysis and engineering. These costs for any fix or improvements will be paid for by Oceano residents as the “benefiting” properties. The County will get paid; win, lose or draw.
4. The County doesn’t seem to remember the completed 2004 Drainage and Flood Control Study prepared for Oceano by the County which recommended construction of a terminal stormwater basin on five acres of County owned airport land. This was the preferred near-term project identified in the 2004 study.
Coincidently, one of the pump locations proposed by the County is at the intersection of Lakeside Avenue and Aloha Place precisely where concentrated stormwater runs off the airport property into “the Island” and Sanitation District.
The County has intentionally been silent on the airport properties complicity in the flooding and drainage issues. What cannot be ignored is that the airport land acts as a dam and directs stormwater around it into areas ill-prepared to receive even incremental volumes of additional stormwater.
Any meaningful solution to the chronic flooding in Oceano must include a discussion of the airport property.
The mystery of why the County has been unwilling to talk about the airport land is deepened considering the operations at the airport are not profitable.
Perhaps it’s the potential liability associated with the raw sewage spill in December of 2010 from the Sanitation District or maybe the Supervisors including District 4 Supervisor Paul Teixeira may be afraid of the Airplane Pilots and Owner’s Association (APOA). I guess that is just politics. Let’s see residents/constituents or out of town pilots, hmmm?
The bottom line is that the flooding in Oceano and the lack of meaningful responsiveness by the County is just another example in Oceano history of residents realizing negative impacts with no benefits.
Jeff Edwards is a 35-year SLO County resident and professional land planner.