VENTURA, Calif. - The small neighborhood of Camp Chaffee in Ventura County is feeling more isolated than usual, that’s because the main road in and out is currently flooded.
“It is frustrating. It is just frustrating because it is dangerous for us to be completely cut off,” said Piper Presley a resident of the Camp Chaffee neighborhood.
The community near Coyote Creek is on the downstream side of Casitas Dam. Camp Chaffee Road runs right over the creek, and it has been under more than two feet of water since February 17, 2017 when more than seven inches of rain fell in the area within a matter of hours.
“With the heavy rains that we have had, sediment has washed down and it has clogged up the channel for about 500 feet and that clogged channel is backing water up on the dry weather crossing,” said First District Supervisor Steve Bennett.
Since the storm, the couple dozen homes that live in the area have been forced to use Skyhigh Road. A one-lane road, that in many places is too narrow for vehicles to pass.
“If something doesn’t happen, it is probably just going to continue like this and it is dangerous going over Skyhigh Road. It is very narrow and you have to back up if there is a car coming the other way,” said Camp Chaffee resident Frederick Ford.
The county has been trying to find a solution to the problem, even going out to Camp Chaffee Road to pump water out of the creek, but because the stream is so full of mud and silt, it quickly fills back up and now residents are frustrated that more isn’t being done to fix the problem.
“They have almost given up on us it feels like. The county should have contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is the agency that actually has the authority and can request the funding to clear the creek,” said Presley.
Supervisor Bennett says the county won’t be able to implement a short-term fix until that flow diminishes, and in the meantime, it is exploring a long-term solution.
“It is not something that lends itself to a short-term solution. To get permits to actually put heavy equipment into the creek you have to have it be an actual emergency and the state agency determines that, and they have determined that this is not an emergency because residents do have an accurate yet really inconvenient access,” said Bennett.
The biggest concern for residents in the Camp Chaffee neighborhood is what happens when there is an emergency, and they have to get out of the neighborhood or emergency vehicles have to get in.
“Ultimately we are really worried that fire season is coming up and if there was an evacuation to happen 40 households trying to evacuate on a single road would be pretty dangerous,” said Presley.
This isn’t the first time Camp Chaffee has dealt with Camp Chaffee Road becoming flooded. The major storms in 2005 created an even bigger problem, with water up to the homes. Because the 2005 flood was a President’s and Governor’s declared emergency, the creek was able to be cleared without permits, and the approximate cost of $500,000 was covered by the federal government.
“Everyone has a trade off as in concerns to where you live. If you live in a remote canyon you are going to have a greater fire risk,” said Bennett, “So what should the tax payers do about that, well partially if you live in a high-risk area, you will have to start making those kinds of decisions but it won’t always be the tax payer that will solve those problems for you,” said Bennett.
In a letter sent to the residents Bennett said the county is not the only solution available, and if residents can gain the assistance of their State or federal agencies, or undertake projects themselves, he would support these efforts and assist where he could.