Preparedness & Recovery

Flood-Control Project Dries up a Second Time; City Demands Refund

The city, which is on the hook for 25 percent of the costs of the federal project, has written a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking to be reimbursed for more than $1.8 million the city made in two payments on the project.

by Phil Diehl, The San Diego Union-Tribune / November 3, 2017

(TNS) — A $5.3 million excavation project that would protect hundreds of Oceanside homes from flooding along the San Luis Rey River has fallen through for the second year in a row, and the city wants its share of the money back.

The city, which is on the hook for 25 percent of the costs of the federal project, has written a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking to be reimbursed for more than $1.8 million the city made in two payments on the project, plus almost $30,000 for staff time, materials and equipment invested in the project.

“I want to express the city’s frustration due to the Corps’ (in)ability to get the project started and completed,” states a copy of the Oct. 25 letter signed by Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood.

The letter requests the refund of a $425,000 payment to the Corps made on March 11, 2016, a $1,411,750 payment made July 1, 2016, and $29,892.24 for the city’s staff time, materials and expenses to prepare for the work.

“The invoice does not include the numerous hours of staff time spent in weekly meetings with the Corps, site visits, securing an agreement … for site access, media requests, presentations to various groups, as well as providing updates and answering questions for citizens, business owners, community groups and other interested parties,” the letter states.

A spokesman for the Corps, Greg Fuderer, said Tuesday he had no new information on the contract, what caused the breakdown, or whether the work might be done next year.

“We’ve agreed that a solution for this year is not available,” Fuderer said.

The Corps also administers contracts to clear brush along the river every few years, which also helps to protect nearby low-lying areas from flooding.

The excavation project to widen and deepen the river channel was first scheduled to start in October 2016 and to remove 230,000 cubic yards of sediment from about one mile of the riverbed between the bridges at Foussat and Benet roads. That project was delayed and then postponed until this year because of problems getting a permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

This year, the work had been scheduled to begin Sept. 15 and end by March 15, which is the environmental window left open over the winter by the nesting season of endangered native bird species under state and federal regulating agencies.

Environmental issues, construction plans and equipment staging plans all came into question on the project this year, said Kiel Koger, the city’s public works division manager. As the delay progressed, it again became clear the contractor would not be able to complete the work in the time available.

To prepare for the work, the city posted signs over the summer to announce the expected closure of a segment of the bike trail atop the levee on the southern side of the river. Cyclists and pedestrians were to be detoured around the trail between Douglas Drive and Foussat from mid-October through March 15 to allow access to construction traffic; however, that detour is no longer necessary.

The Corps’ $5.3 million contract with the Northern California company Steelhead Constructors Inc. called for 210,000 cubic yards of sand and sediment. The amount of material to be removed was reduced this year because the 2016-17 winter was the wettest in several years and for the first time in a while the heavy rains flushed some of the river sediment into the ocean.

Beach-quality sand excavated in the flood-control project would be trucked to city beaches for sand replenishment, and sediment not clean enough for the beach would be dumped at the city’s El Corazon property north of Oceanside Boulevard.

A receptionist at the Steelhead office said this week that no one there was available to discuss the contract.

The company’s website lists 130 completed projects dating to 1996. Most were things like road, bridge and stream bank erosion repairs in Northern California and for contracts less than $1 million.

One of the largest projects listed was a $3.3 million contract in 2011 to rebuild a county road in Trinity County. Last year’s work included a levee restoration in Fresno for $2 million and bridges replaced for $2.2 million in Yuba County and for $1 million in Nevada County. None of the projects was in San Diego County.

philip.diehl@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @phildiehl

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©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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