Pismo's still recovering from the rains of 2017



The city of Pismo Beach declared a state of emergency in January 2017 after heavy rains led to storm drain failures on Highway 101, significant flooding in roads and businesses, and collapsing bluffs along the coast. More than two years and thousands of dollars in state and federal emergency funding later, Pismo still hasn't started construction on a series of projects that could help prevent similar or worse situations in the future.

At a meeting on Aug. 6, Pismo City Council consented to a status update on various repairs and prevention work associated with damages caused by the rains of 2017, notifications that are mandatory for projects receiving emergency funding.

Although the storms of 2017 racked up an estimated $3 million to $6 million in damages, according to a staff report, Ben Fine, Pismo's director of public works, said nothing was completely "catastrophic." Houses weren't destroyed and residents weren't killed or injured.

The rains caused several storm drain failures, according to the staff report, flooding two hotels on Price Street, blocking the city's storm drain outfall, and scattering debris along Highway 101, Price Street, Franklin Drive, and various sidewalks and lawns.

Portions of several coastal bluffs fell, and Fine said that while Pismo allows nature to take its course on some bluffs, others, like the one at Ocean Boulevard, need to be reinforced.

"On Ocean Boulevard, [the bluff failure] is threatening the street there," Fine said, "which is a problem."

Now the city is working on a coastal access project at Ocean Boulevard, which Fine said will include the installation of bluff protection measures, a wall, new beach access stairs, benches, storm drain improvements, and a sidewalk and path connecting that access point with others along Pismo's coast.

"It's many projects all wrapped up into one," Fine said.

Actual work on the project, however, is fairly stagnant.

The city has received several "reimbursement checks" totaling $101,833 from the state and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help repair damages at various Pismo sites under FEMA purview, but Fine said all of that funding went toward portions of the project's environmental review. The review is ongoing and will likely take about another year to finish.

City staff are still evaluating the sites under FEMA purview—storm drains at Franklin and Harbor View avenues and near Dolphin Bay Resort, storm damage at City Hall, and bluff failures at Ebb Tide Park—and getting estimates and proposals for permanent restorations. The city has also received authorization from the Federal Highway Administration through the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for engineering design and environmental studies for projects related to the bluff damages on Ocean Boulevard, storm drain failures on Cliff Avenue at Ocean Boulevard, and slope and road damages on Price Canyon Road, according to the staff report.

Costs for those projects will be reimbursed by a little more than 88 percent by Caltrans with a nearly 12 percent city match.

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