‘Clearing our roads is the urgent need’

Mar 8, 2023 | County, Government

rowe community mtg 3.2.23

Supervisor Dawn Rowe hosted a community meeting on March 2 with Skyforest resident Graham Smith posing questions on behalf of the mountain.

county press conference 3.3.23

County CEO Leonard Hernandez at the podium at the March 3 press conference with Brendan Biggs of Public Works, Assemblyman Tom Lackey, Supervisor Dawn Rowe and CHP Commander Napoleon Salais.

‘Clearing our roads is the urgent need’

‘We can always do better’ – Chief Dan Munsey

By Mary-Justine Lanyon

Supervisor Dawn Rowe held a community meeting on March 2 that took the place of both Municipal Advisory Council meetings this month. She invited top folks from the various agencies involved with storm response to participate.

The next day the county held another in its series of press conferences.

“We sympathize with residents,” Rowe said, noting that a number had been rescued but “many are still stranded.” She urged residents who have food, shelter and water to remain sheltered in place.

County Fire Chief Dan Munsey reported that they have been able to order “a lot of equipment from a lot of places.” He told residents they will be seeing a lot of fire engines. (Editor’s note: On March 5, we spotted fire vehicles from Ontario and Loma Linda.) Hand crew trucks will be following the big equipment, the chief said, helping private citizens dig out cars and paths to front doors.

“We recognize there will be a much bigger emergency if we don’t help people,” Chief Munsey said.

On March 2 the chief said they have been able to put on 15 additional engines crews they had acquired from the state and four additional Sno-Cats, which allow the fire department and the sheriff to move around and assess the damage.

When asked about preparation for the storm, Chief Munsey noted that the weather “came in worse than ever anticipated in Southern California. Several weather events were stacked on top of each other.

“How can we be better prepared in the future?” he asked. “We learned valuable lessons about clearing the roads. They did their darndest. The snow came down so quickly, front-end plows became ineffective. They needed specialized equipment.”

The chief added they only had a 24 to 36-hour warning so, even if the county had leased equipment, it would not have been here in time.

“We can always do better,” the chief said.

As for clearing the roads, Brendan Biggs, the director of Public Works, has given numbers for the percentage of roads deemed “passable,” which he defined as having one lane open with eight or fewer inches of snow. Those numbers change on a daily basis.

“It’s been frustrating,” Biggs noted at the March 2 meeting. “We would make progress and then there would be more snow. Today we started again at ground zero.

Jim Rogers, the deputy director of maintenance for Caltrans District 8, reported on March 3 that crews had removed more than 2.6 million cubic yards of snow from state routes. That number was updated to 8.2 million cubic yards on March 5.

Rogers said District 8 is coordinating with Caltrans districts throughout the state who are sending loaders, trucks and personnel.

“We will continue to remove snow with the goal opening the highway to those who need to get up there. We thank the community for their patience.”

While residents were allowed to drive up Highways 18 and 330 on several days with escorts, Caltrans and the CHP shut down the escort system last weekend, frustrating many residents who wanted to drive down to grocery stores and doctors’ appointments. On Facebook, some suggested a pass system, where residents leaving a cleared-out parking spot could return that same day (see the Letter to the Editor).

“The enormity of this event is hard to comprehend,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey. “It has generated a severe amount of anxiety and frustration, especially to those trapped in their own homes. I can’t imagine being trapped in my home for days and feeling helpless.”

Congressman Jay Obernolte noted he had sent a letter to the governor, urging he declare a state of emergency, which did happen. He said he had sent a similar letter to President Joe Biden, asking him to be prepared to declare a federal disaster, which would unlock other resources.

At the March 2 community meeting, Graham Smith stressed the urgency of clearing the roads. Is there a timetable where we can expect passable conditions on all county-maintained roads? he asked. Is there any provision for getting county help to clear the non-maintained roads?

Leonard Hernandez, the county CEO, said that “under the authority the board of supervisors committed to yesterday (March 1), we can evaluate that with Public Works. We have the mechanism to institute a waiver system.

“Unified command (under the command of Chief Munsey) is looking at how we get to people. We don’t want to leave residents stranded.”

Supervisor Rowe reminded people at the community meeting that, at a press conference the day before, Biggs had said it could be one to two weeks before the roads are cleared. “If we get all the equipment we hope for,” the supervisor said, “might that be reduced?”

The answer from Biggs: “Closer to a week. It depends on what we run into. We will see a lot of progress in the next week.”

Hernandez said he had had a conversation with Nancy Ward, the director of the state Office of Emergency Services. “I told her we need resources to cut the timeline in half. The state’s commitment was they will get us those resources. Chief Munsey is lining those resources up.”

After hearing Chief Munsey stress the importance of residents being prepared for extreme situations like a blizzard or earthquake, Smith said that he thinks “most residents did their part with extra preparations. You did, too, but the reality is it wasn’t enough.

“We’re looking to you to give us confidence that this won’t happen the next time.

“We want to know the hard changes you are making from this winter to next. We are looking for some real change and improvement.”

“We hear you and understand,” was Supervisor Rowe’s comment. “Once we get beyond the storm, I’m happy to come up and discuss this.”


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