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Erosion control projects hampered by red tape

- Rain on way has Big Sur residents worried


Published: October 31, 2008

DAVE BRUBAKER wants to install a 480-foot concrete barrier on his property to protect his outbuildings from the mud and debris that promise to rush down Anderson Creek in this winter’s storms.

But according to his attorney, he has yet to get a permit for the work due to a bureaucratic slowdown, and he’s worried rain will come before he can get any work done.

Recent wildfires, which scorched more than 250,000 acres along the Big Sur coast, stripped Anderson Canyon of much of its erosion-controlling vegetation.

To construct the barrier, Brubaker needs an OK from Monterey County and the California Department of Transportation. Unfortunately, both approvals are contingent on an uncompleted engineering report. Meanwhile, Brubaker is prepared to start work on the barrier.

“He is ready to go,” attorney Aengus Jeffers said.

But the need for a site-specific engineering plan was not identified by county planners until three weeks ago, Jeffers noted.

“If we had just known that we needed an engineering plan back in September, the debris diversion could have been completed before this weekend’s rains.”

According to Lisa Kleissner, secretary of the Coast Property Owners Association, at least 21 other Big Sur property owners are seeking approval of erosion control projects, including seven who want federal funding to offset construction costs.

Jeffers praised 5th District Supervisor Dave Potter and assistant planning director Carl Holm for trying to accelerate the process.

“Dave and Carl have been putting in mad hours trying to push this thing through,” Jeffers explained. “These folks have made a heroic effort to try to expedite the construction, but when you have to coordinate with as many as eight other regulatory agencies, the process inevitably attracts red tape as you get closer to the finish line.”

Brubaker’s barrier — specifically known as a k-rail or Jersey barrier — will cost about $55,000 to build. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency, has agreed to provide 75 percent of the project’s cost from its supply of taxpayer dollars, while Brubaker will cover the balance.

According to Potter’s aide, Kathleen Lee, help is on the way for at least some property owners. In an effort to accelerate the permit process, a “rapid review permit team” will be on hand at the county government building in Salinas every Thursday from 8 to 9 a.m.

“We will have all the appropriate agencies in one room ready to approve projects that don’t require engineering,” she explained. “All applicants not seeking federal funding should have their permits within 24 hours.”

Lee said she sympathized with property owners. “I know it is frustrating, but if you look at the jurisdictions that are working together, things are moving as quickly as they can,” she added.

Jeffers just hopes his client can have the work done before disaster strikes.

Reports from the National Weather Service indicate this weekend’s storms have the potential to trigger mudslides, particularly if it rains more than half an inch an hour for several hours, he added.

For directions to where the rapid review permit team will meet on Thursdays, or for more information about erosion control projects, call (831) 755-5025.