PCH at Pt. Mugu Closed All Month

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Caltrans says repairs on Pacific Coast Highway near county line could last through until the end of January. On Tuesday, rock climbers scaled mountainsides to knock unsteady rocks loose. 

Caltrans announced this week that the closure of the Pacific Coast Highway in both directions from Las Posas to Yerba Buena roads in Ventura County is likely scheduled to continue through the end of the month, as crews work to clear debris, rebuild sections of the road, replace protective barriers and hopefully prevent future rockslides.

The highway has been closed since the storm of Dec. 12, 2014, when an avalanche of mud and debris, up to six feet deep in areas, slid across the roadway in pockets up and down the nine-mile stretch just west of Malibu city limits.

Efforts ramped up on Tuesday when trained climbers from Caltrans (the California Department of Transportation) scaled the cliff face just east of Mugu Rock in an effort to knock loose unsteady rocks in a controlled rockslide. The work, which continues throughout the week, will help ensure future rains will not create similar slides.

“Certified climbers are removing rocks that are loose,” said Caltrans spokesperson Patrick Chandler. “They would otherwise be knocked down by rains, heavy winds – normal erosion.”

Chandler described that the climbers used crowbars and their boots to shake and kick loose rocks, without digging into the cliffside and causing further instability.

Caltrans District Geologist Gustavo Ortega said that between the slides in December and the work being done by climbers, the worst of the slides is likely in the past.

“The last storm produced most of the material we are going to have,” Ortega said, adding that the metal netting visible along the cliff face that was put up following the 2013 Springs Fire will not be expanded.

“If conditions change, we will do the netting,” Ortega said, comparing the areas currently protected by the wire webbing with those left uncovered. “The [protected] slope is much steeper around the corner. The slope geometry is totally different in that one.”

In fact, according to Ortega and Chandler, no changes in infrastructure, such as improved K-Rails, extensive netting or other engineering projects, will be performed at this time.

“We’re  going to take the same approach and establish what we had before,” Ortega said.

“We have to rebuild the road, we have some washouts. The process is to rebuild what we had before, but since some is missing, we have some new,” Chandler said.

According to Chandler, it’s the new work that could be causing delays in the project, which has already been going on for nearly a month, since the permit process has dragged.

“Not to sound negative toward other agencies, but we are here in Pt. Mugu State Park, I believe the Army Corps. of Engineers are involved, definitely the California Coastal Commission, and possibly more agencies. We have to go and abide by those rules and regulations. We have a common goal, we just need to get together and make sure it gets done,” Chandler said.

As for the work being completed, Chandler and Ortega stressed that it’s more than just scooping up some mud.

“On Dec. 3 there were three damaged locations along the K-Rails. It reopened in… about five days,” Ortega said. He went on, “On Dec. 12 it was a big storm, high intensity. There was damage in 13 locations, including four locations on the sea side.”

Chandler outlined the process, following the acquisition of permits. 

“We have to remove a lot of dirt here and move it to the proper locations, we have to clean behind the K-rails and move them back. We have to make sure the drains are clear and functioning. We have to fix up the road.”

According to Ortega, the area is already well on its way toward regrowth in the wake of the Springs Fire.

“The U.S. Geological Survey produced a report stating it takes three to five years to reestablish vegetation,” Ortega said. This spring will mark two years since the Springs Fire.