More on the Nets
On Tuesday, January 22, over 100 Montecito residents gathered at Montecito Union School to hear from the Partnership for Resilient Communities, the group of private citizens who have set out to move forward with installing environmentally-friendly Swiss-made steel nets, which catch debris as it comes down the hillsides. “When the events of last year happened, I think all of us were searching for our ‘lane,’” said MUS superintendent Anthony Ranii. “Some of you in this room helped by digging people out, or taking care of families that really needed the most support, both emotionally and financially. The Partnership for Resilient Communities’ lane is the mountain itself.”
The Partnership is comprised of former SB Fire Chief Pat McElroy, Brett Matthews, Gwyn Lurie, Joe Cole, Les Firestein, Mary Rose, Ron Pulice, Alixe Mattingly, Cathy Cash, and Hollye Jacobs, who came together following the 1/9 debris flow to look for ways to prevent, or at least slow down, future debris flows. “We knew we had the opportunity to tap the resources in Montecito and beyond,” said Lurie. “We set out seeking solutions to help us not feel so vulnerable living under this beautiful mountain.” Local government quickly got on board, and after much geological study and engineering work funded by the Partnership, the County granted emergency permits for the nets in December.
Montecito Division Chief of Operations Kevin Taylor spoke to the crowd, explaining that the nets represent a mitigation measure to protect the community from future debris flows. “As we lean towards resiliency in our communities, we have to find other mitigation methods besides our current debris basins,” Taylor said. It’s estimated that there is 25-30% regrowth in our hillsides following the 2017 Thomas Fire; it takes five years for the watershed to completely restore itself to its original condition. “The threat remains this winter and for at least the next three winters,” he added.
McElroy said that the 1/9 event was the last incident he worked before his retirement, reminding the attendees that 23 members of our community perished; 165 people were injured; 900 people were rescued in the first 12 hours; 527 homes were destroyed or damaged; 28 businesses were damaged; and 1.2 billion dollars in assessed property value was washed away. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘how can we augment what the County is already doing?’ They had a full plate already,” he said.
The preliminary plans for the nets include installing six ring nets in three high-risk canyons: Cold Spring, San Ysidro, and Buena Vista. The Partnership is also looking at additional nets in Romero Canyon and Hot Springs, which are on federal land; the government shutdown has delayed movement on those nets. The six nets will be anchored into the sides of the canyon; they allow fine soil, sediments, ash, mud, and water to keep moving, while capturing large wood material and boulders. “Once they are robbed of that soil and silt, the boulders will not move on their own unless they are re-energized,” McElroy said.
When the nets fill, the boulders will spill over the center of the net, but with a lot less energy. “We’re thinking of them as a series of brakes,” McElroy said. The addition of the six nets more than doubles the current debris basin catchments in the three permitted canyons, according to the Partnership. The nets, which are customized for each canyon, will be cleaned out when they are filled, and will remain in place for five years or until native vegetation is re-established. The bottom of the nets, which will hover three to five feet over the canyons to allow fish and wildlife to pass through, are required to be cleaned out shortly after storms. They take about a month to install from staging to installation, and have already been ordered. All the equipment for the installation will be brought in via helicopter, due to the lack of accessible roads deep in the canyons. “We have to install them when the weather is good, so we are definitely on a time crunch,” McElroy said.
The nets have required authorization from the County of Santa Barbara, the Army Corps of Engineers, the CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, the California Water Quality Control Board, and landowners. Discussion is ongoing with FEMA, Congress, Sacramento, and the US Forest Service, and the nets have received strong community leadership support.
The budget for the first six nets is $5.4 million, with $3.3 million pledged already. The Partnership is looking to fund $2 million more, and is asking the community for help. The County’s emergency permits require that the money be raised by February 19. “I believe with my whole heart that the nets are our insurance policy for our properties, businesses, homes, safety, and way of life,” said Jacobs. “The more money we raise, the more protection we get. We need everyone’s help.”
At the end of the meeting, Ron Blitzer, co-founder of the 93108 Fund, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help hourly workers get through the loss of work during the aftermath of the 1/9 debris flow, announced the Fund was putting up a $75,000 matching donation to the Partnership to help get the nets built.
If you would like to donate, or would like more information about the nets, visit www.partnershipsb.org. All donations are tax deductible.