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Calcagno urges county to get involved now on Pajaro flood control project

Jim Johnson, Monterey Herald
3/23/2012

http://www.montereyherald.com/local/ci_20244777/calcagno-urges-county-get-involved-now-pajaro-river

Calcagno urges county to get involved now on Pajaro River flood control project


County considers loan for its share, supervisor says

Monterey County could be on the hook for more than $50 million in damages if county water officials drag their feet on helping pay for a Pajaro River flood control project, county Supervisor Lou Calcagno warned this week.

Calcagno said the county would consider loaning money to the Water Resources Agency to cover its share of the work, which aims to make sure the river doesn't overflow and flood communities and farm fields in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

Calcagno issued his warning during a joint meeting of the county supervisors and water board, which were discussing the $8 million project that would remove sediment and restore habitat.

He said he was worried by suggestions from county water officials that the agency was reluctant to split the cost with Santa Cruz County and didn't have enough money to do so, and that Santa Cruz County officials were already considering ways to move forward with their half of the project.

Calcagno, whose district stretches to the river that marks the boundary between the counties, pointed out that each county ended up with more than $20 million in liability as a result of damage caused by the infamous 1995 flood that devastated the tiny hamlet of Pajaro and surrounding farm fields. Caltrans was saddled with more than $10 million in liability.

If another flood hits and Monterey County hasn't done its share to avert the disaster, Calcagno said, the entire liability could be its responsibility.

Monterey County can't decide it won't clean the terrace along the river known as the bench because it doesn't have the money, Calcagno said.

"If it gets out that Monterey County said it doesn't have the money and it rains like hell, then Santa Cruz can say they wanted to do their share," he said. "My concern is we don't want to be a stumbling block; if Santa Cruz County moves forward, then we almost have to move forward."

Though the project's cost is expected to be offset by about $7.5million in grants including a pending $2.9 million grant under Proposition 84 to be awarded next month county water officials were apparently still haggling earlier this week over how to split the remaining $500,000.

According to a Water Resources Agency staff report, the question is whether Monterey County should pay half the remaining project cost because less than 10 percent of the excavation will come from its side of the river.

But Bruce Laclergue, flood control program manager for Santa Cruz County, said the project would offer an equal benefit to both counties. He acknowledged that more excavation would have to be done on the north side of the river, where sand tends to build up more, but disputed the notion that the middle of the river represents the dividing line between the counties.

On Friday, Calcagno confirmed that County Administrative Officer Lew Bauman had told Santa Cruz County's top administrator, Susan Mauriello, that a loan to the Water Resources Agency to cover project costs would be considered.

Calcagno said he didn't think it mattered where the county line was.

"Monterey County is definitely going to be participating," he said. "We have a large farming area and a community in Pajaro, and we need to protect it from flooding."

David Chardavoyne, general manager of the Water Resources Agency, said there's a concern about cash flow for the project because the grant terms require paying the contractor and then seeking reimbursement. Laclergue said his agency already has about $2 million designated for the project.

Calcagno said county officials should be ready to follow through with the project even if the Proposition 84 grant doesn't come through, which would leave the counties with a considerably larger remaining bill of about $3.4 million.

Calcagno's frustration with further delays seems to be exacerbated by the lengthy holdup in a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers river levee rebuilding project. Debate continues over that project more than a decade after the Corps received federal backing to upgrade a 12-mile section of the river levee to a 100-year flood protection standard. The bench excavation project has been split off as a maintenance effort in the meantime.

Calcagno said it has been decades since any flood control excavation work has been done.

County Water Resources Agency staff said the excavation project would provide only about a decade of viability, and more extensive work would still need to be done.

The project includes removal of up to 336,000 cubic yards of river sediment and habitat restoration along a 7.5-mile stretch of the waterway from just west of Murphy's Crossing to just east of the Highway 1 river bridge. The project is expected to start by summer.

The project's environmental study was released March 9 for a public comment period, which lasts through April 6. The report is available at www.sccoplanning.com, and is titled "Pajaro River Bench Excavation Project Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration."

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