The heavy rains in January took a destructive and expensive toll on the Los Padres National Forest (LPNF), causing up to an estimated $6 million in damage.
Assessment teams touring the two million-acre national forest, which stretches from Big Sur to the western edge of Los Angeles County, have observed extensive damage due to mudslides, rockslides and water erosion. Preliminary repair estimates have projected that the damage will cost between $4 million and $6 million. The Santa Barbara region of the forest was hit the heaviest, suffering damage that left multiple roads closed and may take months to repair.
LPNF Supervisor Gloria Brown said the extent of the damage must be investigated further before a final repair estimate can be determined.
“We know that it will take some time before we can do a thorough assessment, but I’m certain we will find more damage as we work our way into the more remote areas of the forest,” Brown said.
LPNF spokesperson Kathy Good said she thinks the present damage estimates are “very preliminary,” because assessment teams have only considered damage to the roads and have not yet factored in the destruction done to hiking trails. With hundreds of miles of roads and trails to inspect, it could be weeks before an accurate total is obtained, Good said. She said it may be necessary to completely rebuild those roads that are completely washed out, which could increase the total repair cost significantly.
“Some roads are washed out or undercut so severely they collapsed, or are ready to collapse,” Good said.
The LPNF will pay for some of the damage with its own funds, and will also apply for emergency funding from the Federal Highway Administration, Good said. Once all of the damage has been assessed, the money will pay for equipment and labor for the repair effort. With more than a month left in the rainy season, Goodsaid she expects the upcoming repair bill to continue to rise.
Currently, Brown said she believes the water-saturated ground is likely to experience more slides and erosion. Road repairs will be postponed until storm systems no longer threaten the area, Brown said, and, as a result, forest officials are advising potential visitors to the forest to rethink their plans.
Joe Pasinato, public affairs spokesman for the LPNF, said the park’s safety slogan, “Know before you go,” is particularly applicable in the current heavy rain season. A 20-year park employee, Pasinato said, in order for people to avoid injury, visitors should be aware of the dangerous footing and altered trail structure.
“The intensity of the storm came so quickly that it created lots of damage,” Pasinato said.
The large amount of precipitation in such a short period of time has made it difficult for forest crews to repair the damage to the area, Pasinato said, and the potential for rain in the weeks to come could cause more harm and further complicate damage assessment and repair efforts.
“I’m interested to see where we are come April and May,” Good said.
Road and trail information for the LPNF can be found on the forest’s website, www.fs.fed.us/r5/lospadres.