As Montecito cleanup continues, a search for where to dump thousands of tons of mud

Alene Tchekmedyian, Melissa Etehad and Javier Panzar, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

MONTECITO, Calif. -- For days, crews have filled dozens of dump trucks with tangled metal, tire tread, mud and tree branches they cleared from the mudslide wreckage in Montecito.

This week they discarded at least 3,500 tons -- or about 7 million pounds -- of the muck at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, where it will be stored temporarily until crews can sort through it.

But with the total haul increasing by the hour, officials are facing a daunting challenge: where to dump thousands of tons of debris.

"There's a lot of debris out there," said Brad Bihun, a spokesman for the multi-agency response to last week's mudflows that killed at least 20 people and destroyed more than 100 homes. One debris basin alone has an estimated 100,000 cubic yards of muck that needs to be removed, said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.

Up to 1,000 tons more -- per day -- could eventually make it down to the Calabasas Landfill. To help with cleanup efforts, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed a temporary waiver to allow the intake through mid-April.

Santa Paula Materials, which sells rocks and recycled construction debris, will collect the rocks that are hauled out, while Standard Industries, a building material manufacturer, will take the metal and tires, said Lance Klug, spokesman for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery's Office of Emergency Services.

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But officials are scrambling to figure out where to put the growing piles of other material. And with the cleanup operation nowhere near complete, another potential threat looms: more rain.

"We're unsure of how that landscape is going to react to even a small amount of rain," said Capt. Jon Heggie with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The cold storm should arrive Thursday evening and drop 0.1 to 0.2 of an inch of rain over the Thomas fire burn and debris flow area through Friday morning, said Jayme Laber, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

Although that's not enough rain to create slides in the area under normal conditions, officials are proceeding with caution and warning evacuees to stay away, unsure of what additional precipitation could do to a landscape that has already been massively altered in the last month.


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