August 16-22, 2006

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By Patricia Lynn Henley

Across the River

Geyserville residents are losing their detour blues. The town is spread out along both banks of the Russian River, and ever since the New Year's floods damaged the 1930s-era bridge on Highway 128, the only way to get from one side of Geyserville to the other was a 17-mile, 30-minute alternative route. All that will soon be only a memory.

A $25 million project to demolish the old structure and construct a new one has finished four months ahead of schedule. Caltrans is holding a public ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11am on Thursday, Aug. 17. The first motorists will be allowed to drive across the new span the morning of Friday, Aug. 18.

Hardly a Trickle

FEMA disaster funds aren't flowing into the North Bay with quite the same force as the torrential floodwaters did. The Napa County board of supervisors recently agreed to spend $1.64 million to repair some of the most damaged roads, even though they're not sure when or if the county will be reimbursed for its claims totaling $6.5 million. "We're getting verbal news from FEMA representatives that they're questioning the eligibility of some of our claims," says Don Ridenhour, Napa's assistant director of public works. FEMA officials are apparently concerned that Napa didn't send every contract out to bid, even emergency repairs. Ridenhour says the county hired local contractors who could respond immediately and paid state-adopted prevailing wages. "We feel like we're being penalized for acting quickly," he asserts. Another holdup is that federal disaster money is earmarked for repairing damage but can't be used for improvements. However, if a hillside slid away taking a road with it, the county won't just dump dirt back on the hillside. It needs to install a retaining wall, which FEMA views as an improvement. "My understanding is that [other counties] are having some of the same problems," Ridenhour adds. "We're going to contact some of the other agencies to see if working together we can maybe resolve this." Jeff Rawels of Marin County Public Works says FEMA officials have verbally questioned the county's lack of multiple bids on some contracts. "Decisions were made in the middle of the night, in the middle of the storm," he says. Marin County has applied for approximately $7 million in FEMA funds to fix roads and other infrastructure, but federal representatives haven't agreed on which projects qualify. "We're still working through the bureaucratic maze, so to speak," Rawels says. "We anticipate that there's several million dollars in damage that we know of, but we haven't got any money yet." In the last fiscal year, Sonoma County spent about $4 million on 99 disaster repair projects; FEMA has approved reimbursement for about half that cost, says David Robertson of the Sonoma County Road Department.

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