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Published February 22, 2017
Battering storms ravage Lamorinda
Battering storms ravage Lamorinda By Sora O'Doherty

Storms with heavy rain and strong winds battered the Lamorinda area this month, causing widespread damage. In Orinda, there was a serious mudslide at Van Tassle Lane, resulting in one home being red-tagged and another being yellow-tagged.
Meanwhile, the sinkhole on Miner Road, which had opened up on Jan. 11, suffered more damage in storms, and flooding at the site extended to three nearby homes.
For a while, it had looked as though the only way that Orinda would get reimbursed for its sinkhole repair would be by adding a half million dollars to the cost and months to the timeline, but with the help of elected officials, the city will be able to proceed quickly to perform the required work. However, further fierce storms exacerbated the problem with the sinkhole and also damaged three nearby home with flooding. This may lead to litigation by the homeowners against the city.
The owners of several of the flooded homes attended an Orinda City Council special meeting on Feb. 9 to appeal to the council for help but were dismayed to realize that the council would be considering its exposure to potential litigation by the homeowners in closed session. Additionally, emergency easements for the repairs must be negotiated with the homeowners, as well as permanent easements for the infrastructure. The homeowners will be compensated for the easements.
Daryl Rains of Camino Lenada said that the flooding of his home was terrible, that his house was being demolished, and that he hoped the city would assume responsibility. He believed that his property could only be protected by an open bridge instead of a culvert. He said that Orinda Public Works consistently underestimated the amount of water passing through the culvert. Public Works Director Larry Theis said that nothing precludes consideration of a bridge further down the timeline, but that emergency relief is only for restoration, not improvement. The replacement culvert is rated for a 100-year storm, and should reduce the likelihood of debris blockage because it is larger and wider. Theis also stated that the city is proceeding with an additional hydraulic study to reconfirm the situation with the creek.
Another resident of Miner Road said that firefighters had to carry his children to safety from the flooding of his home. He felt overwhelmed. He too said that his home was being completely demolished, and added that he did not have insurance for the contents of his home nor to cover the costs of relocation and that the insurance he did have had a high deductible. His three cars were all destroyed by the flood. City Manager Janet Keeter said that the homeowners had been provided with claim forms, which will go to a third party insurer. She added that she has been in touch with Congressman Mark DeSaulnier regarding disaster funding for private property losses.
With the help of the Army Corp of Engineers and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the city received an emergency permit to begin construction activities to repair Miner Road and the sinkhole.

Unusual Sinkhole
There had been considerable difficulty owing to the unusual nature of the sinkhole. Ordinarily such a situation would be dealt with in two phases, the first an emergency phase to put in place a temporary fix and then, later, a second phase to put in place the permanent fix. The first phase is known as emergency opening (EO) and is 100 per cent reimbursable, while the second phase, permanent restoration (PR), is reimbursable at 88.43 percent. Because Miner Road is only one lane in either direction, and carries a heavy traffic load on a daily basis, there was no viable temporary fix, and if the road were partially fixed, it would have required another significant road closure months later in order to complete the repairs at a much higher cost to the city. While this was under discussion, it appeared that the city would be unable to perform the permanent fix without forgoing all reimbursement, but a significant approval process by California Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration resulted in a determination that work can be performed right away and will be divided between EO and PR. The contract with contractor Bay Cities will be reimbursed as PR at the lower rate.
Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty visited the site and agreed that providing two lanes was necessary for essential traffic. Bay Cities was prepared to begin construction but could not because of the weather. After continuous overnight rain, early Tuesday morning, Feb. 7, the creek overtopped the roadway and headwall. The water surface elevation rose several feet during an hour. The creek backed up and three homes were flooded. The city directed Bay Cities to demolish the existing stone headwalls and to remove the damaged culvert. By that evening the entire width of the roadway above the creek had been taken away to remove as much constriction of creek flow and greatly reduce the potential of further flooding. The end wall had been kept in place up until then to protect the stability of the in-service 16-inch EBMUD water mainline. After the end wall was demolished, the EBMUD line developed leaks and was shut off by EBMUD crews.
Orinda has hired a consultant, Avila Associates, to perform a supplemental hydraulic analysis of the San Pablo Creek corridor roughly 500 to 1,000 feet upstream and downstream of the Miner Road culvert crossing. In order to assist with the hydraulic modeling, staff asked their on-call surveyor to perform more topographic surveys of the creek channel and also to set right-of-way stakes at the culvert location. In other developments, a tree removal company has removed the large oak on the west side of the road and the large sycamore and a small oak on the east side of the road.
Homes in the nearby vicinity were provided temporary pipeline connections for water service. This water mainline feeds a reservoir further uphill along Miner Road. This reservoir has one-to-two days of storage. EBMUD is working on ways to temporarily supply the reservoir from another zone or they will intermittently turn on the damaged mainline for six-to-eight hours to fill the reservoir before shutting it down again.


Nearby Communities Prepare for Storms
Meanwhile, storms last weekend and this week have local fire districts on-the-ready. "The fire districts are in response mode," said Dennis Rein, Lamorinda Emergency Preparedness Coordinator from the Moraga-Orinda Fire District, with more rain threatening to drench the already saturated ground.
Both he and officials in nearby Lafayette and Moraga said that for those residents who need to prepare for potential rain onslaught, sandbags are available in Moraga at Fire Station 41, in Orinda at Fire Station 44 and in Lafayette at the Public Works Department at 3001 Camino Diablo, or on Mt. Diablo Boulevard at Village Center, across from the Veterans Memorial Center.
"Given the recent trend of events, if you see any earth movement, get out of the way. And watch out for ponding on the roads as water pours out from clogged culverts," Rein said.
In the event of a catastrophe, each city has an emergency operations center that its city manager can put into effect, as Moraga activated last year at the onset of its sinkhole crisis.
Mike Moran, public works director for Lafayette, says that the ground, from the hills to the ball parks is completely saturated so all runoff water is going to the drains, ditches and creeks. His crew have removed one tree that came down Feb. 3 on Pleasant Hill Road.
He encourages residents to keep their driveway culverts clear of debris as that is the responsibility of the homeowner, not the city. Many are finding that over the years when these culverts haven't been needed, they have filled with debris and soil.
In Moraga, Town Manager Robert Priebe says that the biggest challenges have been related to mudslides and trying to keep the roads clear. "We have also responded to many reports from people concerned about water coming up from around manholes and at other low spots in roadways," he added. When this happens, the public works team makes sure there are no water leaks involved, and Priebe says that it is usually just ground water seeping out.
Residents have also noticed all over town, on the major arterials that were not part of the paving program of the last three years, that myriad potholes are developing all over the pavement. At the Feb. 8 council meeting, Public Works Director Edric Kwan presented to the council a contract agreement with Lafayette based JV Lucas Paving, Inc. for a three-year period for on-call pavement repair services for severe potholes. Rather than filling those with multiple cold patches, JV Lucas will be repairing base failures to prolong the pavement's life. Some dry weather will be needed to address the repairs.
The other big weather-related challenge in Moraga is closure of Rheem Boulevard between St. Mary's Road and Moraga Road. Jennifer Lenfestey at the Rheem Valley Pet Shoppe says that since the boulevard closed she's lost a large portion of her business. Several other nearby merchants also lamented the loss of business.
Priebe says that the road reconstruction, the responsibility of developer Summer Hill Homes, is close to completion. He says that the contractors need approximately five days of no rain before they can begin to work on the final portion of the roadway reconstruction, followed by several days of dry weather to do the final work to allow paving the last layer of asphalt pavement. He adds that the paving must occur on a day with no rain and air temperatures above 50 degrees. Once paved, the roadway needs to have the utility covers adjusted to grade and the striping placed, which will also require proper weather conditions. The reopening date of Feb. 24 will not be met.
Priebe adds that the town does not want to rush the developer because his staff is ensuring that all work done will last into the future. "We will not allow or approve any work until it can be done correctly," he concluded. At this time no new date for opening has been announced.
Sophie Braccini, Pippa Fisher and Nick Marnell contributed to this story.

Rheem Boulevard is close to completion but will not reopen soon. Photo A. Scheck

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