‘We’re feeling a little neglected’: Shelter Cove residents urge county to repair storm-damaged road

A large landslide next to Shelter Cove Road shown in this December 2016 photo will likely cost more than $1 million to fix and will require federal disaster reimbursements, according to Humboldt County officials.
A large landslide next to Shelter Cove Road shown in this December 2016 photo will likely cost more than $1 million to fix and will require federal disaster reimbursements, according to Humboldt County officials. Humboldt County Public Works Department — contributed

After winter storms heavily damaged the main road into their oceanside community, Shelter Cove residents are set to make the nearly two-hour drive on Tuesday to urge the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to make repairs.

“We’re feeling a little neglected,” part-time Shelter Cove resident Brenda McLaughlin said Thursday. “We can be told one thing, but not to do it is another. We would like, more than anything, a plan of action and let us know what’s going on. Please let us know what we can expect and why it isn’t happening and why maybe the money is going somewhere else.”

Shelter Cove residents have recently been circulating a petition urging the county to create a plan of action to fix the road. The petition now has nearly 900 signatures, McLaughlin said.

Public Works Director Tom Mattson said last winter’s storms caused landslides that damaged two sections of the isolated Shelter Cove Road between Whitethorn and Shelter Cove.

McLaughlin said the slides both occurred on blind curves, with drivers having to inch forward on the one-lane sections of road and hope no one else is coming.

While Mattson said the residents’ concerns are valid, he said the county’s resources are limited. The limitation is mainly because federal reimbursement dollars have not yet been approved to make repairs for more than 100 country roads damaged by the storms, Mattson said. The storms caused more than $20 million in damages to county roads, Mattson said.

The county is responsible for maintaining more than 1,200 miles of roads and currently has a repair backlog of $200 million.

Mattson said he is hoping that they will receive approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency this year to repair the section of Shelter Cove Road where a smaller landslide damaged a culvert. Mattson said that section could potentially be addressed before winter. But the damage caused by the larger landslide will cost at least $1.5 million to fix and will require long-term planning, Mattson said.

For now, Mattson said he is limited to county funds, which have been used for other projects throughout the county.

“When I’m deferring $10 million of maintenance every year, it’s hard to justify spending the money in one spot when the whole system is collapsing,” Mattson said.

Second District Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell, who represents Shelter Cove, said she has been receiving several emails, phone calls and letters from the community about the state of the road. Fennell said she also is concerned about the state of the road, but said the county is doing all it can right now to address the situation given its financial situation.

Fennell said the Public Works Roads Division has not neglected Shelter Cove Road, having filled in pot holes and constructing a temporary bridge when the culvert initially blew out. But she said the damage caused by the larger slide will be more difficult to fix as the road is on a very steep embankment

“This is not a case of the county ignoring or forgetting Shelter Cove,” Fennell said. “I think the county has been pretty good doing the very best we could and we will continue to do this and address this as soon as possible.”

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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