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Crews work to clear tons of dirt from basins

February 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Crews are not taking any chances and prepping the foothill areas for the next round of storms, carrying tons of dirt out of debris basins.It's hard to believe that spring is just a couple of weeks away as foothill residents are facing real winter problems. As residents and crews prepare for two new rain storms, tons of rock and dirt still hang over those hillside neighborhoods just waiting to come down.

The streets are filled with dump trucks carrying rocks and dirt out of debris basins to make room for more runoff.

Two and a half weeks ago, the Dunsmore Basin and others in the area were filled to overflowing. County crews have cleared much of that material, but residents are still worried.

"My concerns are for the debris basin over here and this spillway because it could impact my house," said La Crescenta resident Kathy Cockerill.

Eric Grossman knows firsthand how bad it could get if it rains hard enough.

During the Feb. 6 storm, a 10-foot wall of water raced through Dunsmore Canyon, inundating the debris basin and nearly overtopped the dam.

Grossman is a senior park naturalist at the Dukmejian Wilderness Park, and he climbed up to survey the surrounding mountains Tuesday.

"There is a lot more that can still come down. This is just the beginning. We're looking at two to three years until we can put away our hats and say we're in the clear," said Grossman.

County officials are concerned enough to clean out the Verdugo Debris Basin further down in Montrose. It is two miles from the mountains, but a dozen storm channels converge there, and it too has filled up. So now, convoys of dump trucks are hauling out 100,000 cubic yards of dirt 10 cubic yards at a time.

Three-hundred independent truck drivers have been hired for the job, and these drivers say that with the bad economy, this is like a stimulus bill from heaven.

"In January, we were just sitting at home saying, what to do? Now February and into March, and we're expecting work to go into April, so it actually means good news for us," said truck driver Jose Duran.

The county estimates that all that hauling will cost $30 million, and Wednesday, L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich called on Washington to reimburse the county for that cost. He continues to blame the federal government, specifically the U.S. Forest Service, for not calling in county fire fighters to help put out the Station Fire last September that scorched the hillsides leaving no vegetation.

The rain touched other parts of Los Angeles County Wednesday, including Santa Clarita.

Santa Clarita residents say that they don't mind the rain, as long as it doesn't all dump at once.

"I love the rain. I think it's fantastic for California. I mean, not when it pours or anything, but I like the rain, it's cool," said Santa Clarita resident Bre Newberry.

"I think we can use a little more, not all at once but a little at a time would be fine," said another Santa Clarita resident Dave Magnuson.

"I love the rain to be honest. It's great," said another Santa Clarita resident Anthony Sarno.

Midday Wednesday, there were a few light drizzles in Santa Clarita, but downpours were yet to be seen. Most of the rain was expected to hit late afternoon.