The ‘Nasty’ Needs Help – Voices of Monterey Bay

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By Kate Woods Novoa

All I was trying to do was come home. I was recovering from eye surgery I performed at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto and had been away from my home on the south coast for 19 days, recovering and seeing doctors. I have been told that I cannot travel above 1,500 feet above sea level and that I live at 3,200 feet.

When I was finally cleared home from Paso Robles, we learned that the freeway was closed at Pepperwood Gulch. We waited a few days for a reopening, but when Caltrans said it would take up to a week, we decided to go back, onto Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

This trip was a major wake-up call. The arduous journey from the Salinas Valley on the Santa Lucia Range to the coast started an email campaign for me that continued even as I was writing this article.

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Route Nacimiento-Fergusson | Picture provided

Nacimiento-Fergusson is a 100-curve road without guardrails, along rugged canyons that descend to 2,000 feet. It is not for the faint of heart, but people relied on it even before the first pioneers settled in the area. In the late 1800s, these pioneers drove their cattle to the Santa Lucias to bring them to market. The path they took is where the Nacimiento-Fergusson road stands today. In 1931, modern road construction began. It was completed in 1937.

It’s a wild and windy road, but it is essential for residents, businesses and visitors to the South Coast. When Highway 1 is closed to through traffic – which seems to be a more common occurrence these days – Nacimiento-Fergusson is usually the only way in and out for stranded residents and tourists.

Settlers from the southern part of Big Sur, around Lucia and the Pacific Valley, traveled the road on horseback or wagon to catch the stagecoach at Jolon or, after about 1897, the train to Salinas at King City to get there. refuel.

Stanley Harlan, a South Coast resident who turned 94 on Veterans Day, remembers the drive well. His brother, Don, was the original “road warrior”, overseeing the Caltrans crew stationed at Willow Springs. The Harlans’ father, George, built the Lucia Lodge even before the highway was built.

“My father, with his first truck, crossed the Nacimiento to transport a sawmill to the coast to be used by DeLamater to make lumber for Lucia Lodge,” Stanley Harlan told me. “I made this trip, riding in the back and hanging on to the low rack for life. The Mel Pitas section was terribly like a washboard and I felt like my teeth were going to fall out! The most unusual experience was about a mile or two from the summit, where the road was really narrow and carved into solid rock. Our double truck wheel actually dragged in the open, briefly, as we passed this narrow section.

Stanley Harlan said his uncle Fred was the first person in the area with a car, a Model T Harlan. He drove him to the Nacimiento-Fergusson road, then an old timber road to bring him home. “They then took it apart and hauled it in pieces to the Wilber Harlan ranch,” Stanley said, “where they reassembled it before there was a road in the area. They then made a road. down the hill to the planned highway with a team of horses and a scraper (Fresno).

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nasty road | Photo by Ted Buzzard

The state of ‘nasty’ is tenuous

Exactly a year ago, I wrote a rather prescient article about the state of “Nasty,” as some locals like to call Nacimiento-Fergusson. At the time, I outlined the potential impact of the Dolan fire on the road. You could call this story prophetic, but I had a sense of how things were going to turn out only because I’ve lived here so long and seen what can happen.

Tim Short, the Los Padres National Forest District Ranger, then told me that he and the burnt area rehabilitation team had contacted county officials to discuss the fire’s impact on the road and potential problems that could arise after winter storms. “The Forest Service has taken proactive steps to clean culverts, install debris fencing to prevent clogged drainage inlets, contract culvert installation and remove dangerous trees, among other activities,” said Short.

In another email a year ago, county public works director Randell Ishii said his department was evaluating strategies to keep the Nacimiento-Fergusson road open. “However, we have to recognize that if the storms were greater than our capacity, there is (a) the possibility that the road would need to be closed for public safety,” he wrote.

Just two months later, the so-called “atmospheric river” of January 2021 hit Big Sur hard. He completely closed the forest service road.

“Chalk Peak, the primary route out of the mountain for many of us, was hit with well over 10 inches over a 24 hour period and at least 15 inches over 48 hours,” I wrote on my blog. at the time. “The winds howled. Trees have fallen. Boulders and mudslides covered the roads. We do not have a road crew available. Los Burros, Plaskett, Nacimiento and South Coast Ridge Road were ransacked. We didn’t call anyone because there was no one to call and no one wanted or could answer. We got down to work clearing the roads, chopping down felled trees, and keeping an eye on the neighbors.

“Two neighbors, Tom Collins and Colleen Wilson, are a team that just got busy and got down to business on Friday, clearing South Coast Ridge Road. at Nacimiento-Fergusson Road ”, where they were stopped by three large trees that they could not cut.

Once a path through the debris flows of Nasty was cleared by county road crews, residents were allowed to use the road into King City. While the Atmospheric River completely closed Nacimiento-Fergusson, it also closed Highway 1. The highway at Rat Creek was closed for four months while a breakaway was repaired there. Two of our exits were now closed to us south of Rat Creek.

Nacimiento-Fergusson is technically a US Forest Service route that authorities outsource to Monterey County for maintenance. Usually the relationship works well. There were issues this year, however, related to payments to the county for repairs they were making.

I spoke with a county road maintainer on the east side of Nacimiento-Fergusson shortly after the team opened it up enough for me to walk through in January. He told me that the department supervisors told the San Ardo team to pack their bags and go home. The road was as dirty as I have ever seen it.

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Debris from the Dolan fire washed up on the pavement | Photo by Kate Woods Novoa

A white hand

On October 29th, Rock Knocker and I left Paso Robles on our way home on this steep road. We were shocked. It was so bad that Rock Knocker, who worked maintaining Route 1 for over 27 years, said he would not be taking that route back until it was fixed. I was all white hitting him.

A few days after this trip, I launched my email campaign to find out how the government was going to fix the road. I reached out to everyone who had responsibility for this road, from those in charge of road maintenance to our elected officials and everyone in the chain of command in between.

In response to my Halloween email blitz, Monterey County Supervisor Team Leader Mary Adams Sarah Hardgrove sent out a schedule for the road repairs.

Conclusion: The project schedule indicates that it will be completed by the end of 2023.

The caveat: The schedule is dependent.

The complication: The estimates were made before last month’s rains closed Highway 1 north of Ragged Point.

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Tom Collins clearing the debris | Photo by Colleen Wilson

In the meantime, Tom has made arrangements to rent a dumpster and obtained an emergency permit from the Forest Service which allows him to scrape the road from rocks and debris that made the road extremely difficult to navigate. While working on the road, he discovered another breakaway that threatens to close the entire road.

After this discovery, Collins enlisted the help of county and federal engineers to resolve the issue, but has yet to hear back from anyone.

During this time, I heard from Andrew Marsden, a spokesperson for the Los Padres National Forest, who said the forest service was seeking emergency funding from the Federal Highways Administration.

Residents of the south coast are hardy souls. Some of us can patch this route temporarily, and will if we can get permission. The question is whether piecemeal repairs will be enough to keep the road open until the Forest Service can fix it in two years.

And, of course, the overriding question is whether Route 1 will hold up for another two years without another major closure.

Featured Image: Tom Collins clearing away the debris | Photo by Colleen Wilson

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