Lack of Maintenance of County Culverts Leaves Kaweah Residents Stranded

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Patty Miller and Jim Hewett, her grounds keeper, her dogs and livestock found themselves stranded because of Tulare County culverts that had not been maintained. During the mid-January storms, water that was supposed to run down the culverts instead flowed unimpeded down Miller’s driveway and private road causing significant property damage which caused the road to collapse. The water also took out parts of North Fork Drive.

Because of the damage to Miller’s property, her cows have been separated from their pasture and have been wandering off and grazing on other people’s private property. Both Miller and Hewett have disabilities, further effecting their mobility.

Miller contacted Tony Bollord from the Tulare County Public Works Department for help.  Bollord called her back and said he had actually been up there with his supervisor and took pictures and saw it was a private road so decided it wasn’t their issue.

With the new round of storms the problem has worsened.

On February 6, a good friend of Miller’s, Deanna Oleary, contacted several Tulare County Supervisors and the Resource Management Agency. Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthley promptly responded to her email and sent the newly hired Reed Schenke, Assistant Director of Public Works, Tony Bollord and Johnny Wong, also from the Public Works Department, to inspect Miller’s property.

During their inspection Oleary and the county workers discovered that several culverts above Miller’s property had not been cleaned or properly maintained. They also witnessed a second very large culvert (36-inch pipe) that was completely blocked and the source of the most damage. The consensus was that these culverts normally divert water into a large ravine that leads directly to the Kaweah river before reaching Miller’s property.

Oleary said that had Bollord taken this issue seriously in January and actually thoroughly investigated the source of the problem Miller, would not have the extensive damage that has now devastated her property. “The largest of these culvert pipes that were blocked actually had a large black recliner dumped into the ravine near where the trees and brush were blocking the exit path,” she said.

Schenke sent a crew to clean the culverts to prevent further damage on February 9. According to Hewett, who is still stuck on the premises, the water stopped pouring onto Miller’s property once the culverts had been cleared. “It’s as if someone had turned off the tap,” he said.

During their inspection of the damage, Schenke also advised Miller to proceed with a private contractor to repair her road because the county was spread too thin with all the other repairs from recent flooding. The private contractor said he could make the road passable again within a couple of weeks, and that it would cost up to $10k–depending on what he finds.

Miller and Oleary and four others were told by Schenke after the inspection that the cost of repairing her private driveway and road would be reimbursed by the county. Oleary also claims Schenke said that someone from the county “would get down to review all the damage to the property and structures to determine how it would be repaired or the reimbursement for those repairs.”

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When Oleary recapped in an email to the Public Works Department what had been decided about who was at fault and that the county would pay for repairs, Schenke responded, “We stated that it was the primary objective and to everyone’s benefit to figure out how to most efficiently and quickly get this done. We did not state that the County would reimburse Ms. Miller for that work as I am not authorized to make that call at this time.”

Oleary started a GoFundMe page to help her friend pay for the repairs so she could get back home and take care of her animals. After a few hours the contractor called Miller and informed her that an “angel” had contacted him to fix the damage and restore the road and that they are taking care of the cost.

The benefactors have opted to remain anonymous.

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