Dodging potholes in Portola

Many residents of Portola have had to dodge potholes that seem to be sprouting up at every turn, and may be wondering why the roads have not yet been fixed.

In speaking with Portola Public Works Director Todd Roberts, answers were found. “It’s really a difficult situation,” Roberts noted. “We have been getting at least three to four calls a day at city hall, with reports of potholes and road damage.”

Many ask Roberts why the city can’t just fix the holes during breaks in winter storms, but this is where the city is at a crossroads of sorts — the city may do temporary emergency work, but to do any permanent work at this point could potentially cause the city of Portola to lose out on government funding.

“There are guidelines to applying for and receiving FEMA/CalOES funds,” Roberts said. The process to apply for government funds is lengthy. Each city must compile a damage assessment, which goes to the county. The county then bundles the total estimated damage reports and sends them forward to CalOES. From there, the information must be sent to the Governor, who will declare an emergency if a certain monetary threshold is reached in damages. After the Governor declares a state of emergency, things move up the ladder to the President, who may then declare a state of emergency and release funds from FEMA to CalOES to repair damages.

After all of those steps have been taken, FEMA and CalOES engineers must take an in-person walking tour of the damaged areas, assessing the estimate damage claimed. “At this point, we have received assessment for the January storms, but not the February storm damage,” Roberts said.

Temporary emergency repairs are ongoing as the city waits for officials to make their second round of assessments, as Roberts noted. “We’re out there around the clock, putting temporary fills on as many holes as we can find, but it’s a constant battle with the ongoing inclement weather,” Roberts said.

“Again, we can’t do permanent repairs at this point, because that would put the city at risk for losing out on funding assistance, but we are trying to maintain the safety of our community as best as possible with temporary fills.”

The issue with the temporary base rock mixture fills is that they are in fact temporary. “It’s definitely not a permanent solution,” Roberts said. “Things are made more difficult with the temporary pothole fills because with each storm, the water table gets higher, leading to overly saturated roads, and snowplows knock the base rock mixture out of the ground in the course of clearing snow.”

The level of water saturation has been so high that the city has had to pump water out from under the roadways.

“When you’re driving, and you see those wet spots on a wavy road, that’s groundwater coming up through the road itself,” Roberts explained.

At this time, a total of $6,011,884 is the estimated damage to the city, with a variety of categories from debris removal to road and bridge systems. The estimates were gathered and provided by City Manager Robert Meacher, City Engineer Dan Bastian and Roberts.

Those numbers could change, depending upon the remainder of the storm season, but the city must wait for FEMA to see the full extent of accrued damages to the city before real repairs can begin.

“At this time, in addition to keeping on top of the temporary fills in the roads, we have received an emergency permit from Fish and Game, which allows us to clean debris and detritus out of our tributaries, culverts and drainage ditches,” Roberts said. “I genuinely feel bad that the community has to play the waiting game with us for road repairs, but I also do not want to risk losing out on potential funding assistance.”

More information will be released as it becomes available, but in the meantime, Roberts thanked residents for their patience, as well as noting that concerned members of the community can reach out to city hall with locations of serious potholes that may crop up in this interim period, so that crews can temporarily fill the holes for public safety. For more information or to report a major pothole, call 832-6803.