.Monterey Officials Question The Delays To Pajaro Levee

Monterey officials question the delays in repairs to two breaches along the Pajaro River levee in a letter to federal representatives last Wednesday.

The letter, sent on behalf of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors and signed by Supervisor Luis Alejo, noted that the United States Army Corps of Engineers rebuilt the site of the initial levee break, which breached in March and flooded the town of Pajaro, earlier this year.

But the two other sites in need of emergency repairs have yet to be completed, the letter noted. These areas include erosion near the Highway 1 bridge and further downstream near the Pacific Ocean.

County officials said they were told by the USACE that delays by the contractor moved the estimated completion date from Dec. 31 to July 1. After urging the USACE to select another contractor, “we have received no response from the USACE regarding our plea,” the letter stated.

“Any storm system this winter that elevates river water levels to the elevation of the compromised levee system at either Site 2 or Site 3, ahead of permanent repairs, jeopardizes the protection of life and property adjacent to the Pajaro River in those locations,” the letter stated. “This could cause a greater impact to an already severely impacted Pajaro community through disruptions to services such as transportation, hygiene, education and employment.” 

The letter was sent during a time when the Monterey County Board of Supervisors rewired changes to a proposal about where to spend $20 million in state funds to aid Pajaro as it regains its footing from the flooding. 

Scores of people in Pajaro objected to the plan, which included money for a community sign, improvements to the local library and more, which caused the supervisors to reconvene the next day on Wednesday to unanimously approve a modified plan. 

The greatest message was for more direct assistance to residents and businesses who feared that money would, instead, be directed to projects such as new crosswalks, sidewalks, library money and such—that have sat underfunded or not funded at all.

The discussions revolved around money that is part of a budget amendment act, Assembly Bill 102, which designated money for Pajaro and elsewhere. 

Pajaro was completely evacuated on March 10 when the Pajaro River levee breached, leaving businesses shuttered and residents out of work for weeks. 

The Pajaro Long Term Recovery Plan presented to the board Tuesday by Office of Emergency Management Director Kelsey Scanlon called for $6 million in direct relief for the community, including business owners, who were only given the option of low-interest loans from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Small Business Administration after the storm. Some undocumented residents were ineligible for direct FEMA relief. 

Most speakers suggested setting aside at least $12 million for direct relief. 

The plan outlined Tuesday included 12 broad project areas ranging from community grants to nonprofits for various projects related to developing community resources, to infrastructure and community development, natural and cultural resources, and emergency preparedness and response. The funding must be spent by the end of 2025 and cannot duplicate any relief from another emergency funding source, like FEMA. 

Supervisors Luis Alejo and Glenn Church, whose district includes Pajaro, questioned the level of investment to dedicate to Pajaro Middle School for items such as an improved turf field and a digital sign that could display public community messages.

The proposal approved by the supervisors included $10 million in direct relief.

Thomas Hughes of Bay City News contributed to this article. 


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