Santa Barbara County’s estimated cost for responding to and recovering from the Thomas fire and subsequent 1/9 Debris Flow rose by $9 million from the estimate reported Feb. 27 to more than $55.38 million in the report to be delivered Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting in Santa Maria.
The estimated loss of revenue to county coffers remains $2.8 million for the current fiscal year and $3.1 million for next fiscal year, according to the report prepared by Andrew Myung, the county’s cost recovery manager.
Supervisors are scheduled to receive the report in their meeting set to begin at 9 a.m. in the Board Hearing Room of the Joseph Centeno Betteravia Government Administration Building at 511 E. Lakeside Parkway.
Anticipated revenue losses this and next fiscal years won’t deliver the only long-term financial blow to the county, according to the report. Recovery efforts and preparations for possible future disasters — and the costs associated with that work — are expected to continue for three to five years.
The report does contain a couple of bright spots, however.
One is that of the currently estimated $55.38 million total cost for disaster response, 93.75 percent, or $39.77 million, is potentially eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Another is that a recent change in federal law may drop the county’s share of debris removal costs from 6.25 to 2.5 percent, further decreasing the currently estimated local share of $12.28 million, the report says.
Myung’s report attributes the jump in total cost — from more than $46 million estimated Feb. 27 to the $55.38 million current estimate — to the Public Works Department’s increased spending to haul away debris plus updated projections for rebuilding expenses in the Public Works Department and Community Services Parks Division.
The debris flow dumped about 30,000 cubic yards of mud, rocks, trees and other detritus over approximately 50 miles of county roads, 200 culverts and 20 bridges and had to be hauled to local sorting sites and the Ventura Fairgrounds, where it was processed and sorted, then hauled to disposal sites.
That required 8,000 truck trips in about six weeks.
“Road clearing and culvert (and) bridge clearing will be an ongoing activity for the next three to five years,” Myung said in the report. “Many drainages and roads still have material to be removed, and there are permanent restoration projects needed at several locations.”
The report also indicates the consequences of the debris flow could have been much worse if county departments had not been proactive.
Even while the Thomas fire was still burning, the Public Works Flood Control Division responded to a storm forecast by quickly clearing 11 debris basins below the burn area, finishing up just before the Jan. 9 storm.
“This proved to be a life-saving action, as all of the debris basins became completely filled during the 1/9 Debris Flow,” Myung said.
Afterward, the Flood Control Division enlisted the help of the Army Corps of Engineers to clear the basins, resulting in another 400,000 cubic yards of debris being hauled away, while staff opened creeks and assisted search and rescue and recovery teams.
“This activity of stream channel and debris basin clearing will need to occur after each storm event for the next three to five years,” Myung’s report said.
The report also outlines the efforts made by the county and cooperating agencies to help individuals remove debris from private property, streamline the process of rebuilding damaged structures, mitigate traffic impacts, coordinate communications, ensure fiscal accountability, build partnerships with nonprofit organizations, reassess property and prepare for future disasters.