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West Ventura County Focus

SANTA PAULA : U.S. Officials Won't Pay for Slide Cleanup

October 05, 1994|GREG RIPPEE

Federal authorities are refusing to pay for clearing a landslide that has blocked South Mountain Road near Santa Paula since Sept. 8, leaving Ventura County to scramble for the cash before the autumn rains soak the debris, county officials said Tuesday.

Butch Britt, head of the county transportation department, said his agency lacks the money to remove the tons of earth that now force residents east of the slide to make a 30-minute detour, through Fillmore, to reach Santa Paula.

"We're trying to beat the rainy season," said Britt, who has speculated that budget constraints and the coming rains could possibly delay reopening the road until spring. "If the soil gets saturated, it would slow us down."

In its preliminary decision, the Federal Highway Administration denied the county's appeal for federal aid because the slide occurred so long after the Jan. 17 Northridge earthquake, FHWA engineer Scott McHenry said.

County geologist Jim Fisher linked the Sept. 8 slide to an aftershock of the January quake. The 3.1 magnitude aftershock near San Fernando brought the mass of debris tumbling onto South Mountain Road.

But McHenry said federal assistance is offered only for damage related to the quake itself or to its immediate aftershocks.

Britt, who estimated it could cost up to $200,000 to reopen South Mountain Road, said the county now might appeal for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the state Office of Emergency Services.

McHenry, however, said he doubted the road would qualify for FEMA assistance because it is not a city street or a minor rural route.

As rain fell throughout the county Tuesday, Britt said county officials were keeping an eye on the tons of rock and debris that continue to cling to the cliff above South Mountain Road.

"So far, it hasn't gotten the soil up there saturated enough to make it a problem," Britt said.

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