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Second Appeal Analysis
PA ID# 059-39178-00; City of Laguna Beach
PW ID# 986; Slope Stabilization
As a result of the heavy rainfall that occurred during the winter storms of December 2010, excessive runoff eroded material on a slope near 800 Gainsborough Drive in Laguna Beach, California. The erosion removed surface material from a section of the slope between Pacific Vista, located up-slope of the eroded area; and Gainsborough Drive, located below the eroded area.
Upon conducting an assessment of the site, FEMA identified damage consisting of a 10-foot-long crack in the pavement near the edge of the guard rail, 800 square feet of surface erosion, and a compromised guardrail post. FEMA determined that the cost of repair would be less than the $1,000 minimum threshold codified in Title 44 of the Code of Federal Regulations (44 CFR) §206.202(d)(2) Application procedures, Project Worksheets. Because the cost of the repair fell below the threshold, FEMA determined the work to be ineligible, prepared Project Worksheet (PW) 986 for $0 on May 10, 2011, and notified the California Emergency Management Agency (Grantee) of the determination.
The Applicant maintains that the slope failure was caused by the disaster and removed integral ground necessary for the structural integrity of the road thus requiring the slope to be stabilized. The proposed work would consist of clearing vegetative materials, grading and benching of the slope in preparation for the installation of the soil nails, and installation of two levels of soil nail walls with shotcrete facing and surface drainage at a cost of $481,510. The slope stabilization would be implemented along a section of the slope that is approximately 240 feet wide (measured across the slope) and located between Pacific Vista and Gainsborough Drive.
On September 7, 2011, the Applicant submitted a first appeal of FEMA’s determination on PW 986, which the Grantee transmitted to FEMA on October 21, 2011. The Applicant claimed that the proposed work was an emergency protective measure to protect the roadway from future damage and cited the definition of “immediate threat” in 44 CFR §206.221(c), Definitions. The Applicant also claimed that the proposed work was necessary to restore the design factor of safety of the road’s integral ground and cited Recovery Policy RP9524.2, Landslides and Slope Stability Related to Public Facilities. The Applicant stated that the project is eligible for funding because the slope’s post-disaster condition posed an immediate threat to Pacific Vista and Gainborough Drive. In support of the appeal, the Applicant submitted reports prepared by the geotechnical consulting firm Stoney Miller Consultants (SMC) and a subsidiary, Geofirm. According to the appeal letter, SMC concluded that the slope failure was caused by the rains that fell during the disaster; the slope was stable prior to the disaster; an analysis of rainfall data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration demonstrated the likelihood of a re-occurrence of a storm similar to the disaster; and that the roads would have sustained damage within a 5-year period based on this likelihood.
On May 29, 2012, the FEMA Region IX Regional Administrator denied the first appeal. The Regional Administrator concluded that there was no evidence that the integral support to Pacific Vista was compromised. Additionally, the Regional Administrator concluded that the proposed slope stabilization project exceeded the scope of work necessary to reduce an immediate threat and improved the integral support of the road beyond the pre-disaster condition of the slope.
The Applicant submitted a second appeal on August 13, 2012, which the Grantee forwarded to FEMA on October 9, 2012. In the appeal, the Applicant claims that the slope was stable before the disaster, but the rains during the incident period saturated the slope causing it to fail. The failure removed integral ground necessary for the structural integrity of Pacific Vista and the post-disaster condition of the slope presents an immediate threat to Pacific Vista. The Applicant asserts that the proposed scope of work is the most cost-effective means available to restore integral ground necessary to support the road. The Applicant warns that if the work is not completed the road will sustain future damage due to a rainfall event that is likely to occur within five years. In support of the appeal, the Applicant submitted an August 13, 2012, report from Geofirm. This report contained additional slope stability analyses specific to the stability of Pacific Vista.
The Applicant has presented the appeal in the context of both emergency work (elimination of an immediate threat) and permanent work (restoration of the integral ground supporting the road and compliance with applicable codes and standards). However, the facility in question – Pacific Vista – sustained only minor damage, with a cost of repair less than $1,000. Further, permanent repair or restoration of natural ground is not eligible, in accordance with Recovery Policy RP9524.2, Landslides and Slope Stability Related to Public Facilities. Therefore, the Applicant’s proposed slope stabilization project must be considered emergency work. FEMA has reviewed the Applicant’s appeal in accordance with the regulations and policy that govern assistance for emergency work.
As described in the reports submitted with the appeals, heavy rainfall during the disaster resulted in the saturation and erosion of near-surface soils. The soils failed over the bedrock strata that generally dip down slope in the area. The failure was limited to the upper 5 feet of surface materials above intact bedrock. Exploratory test borings excavated within Pacific Vista on either side of the affected area indicate that the road is supported directly by bedrock. Our review of the submitted data indicates that a gross slope movement or bedrock wedge-type of failure was not involved in the event.
The August 13, 2012, Geofirm report presents additional slope stability analyses and suggests potential bedrock bedding failure extending beneath the road. The analyses are based on an interpretation of the bedding geometry adjacent to the failure area along the road, but are not supported by additional localized subsurface information. The debris flow event is reported to have destabilized a potential wedge failure by removing materials, resulting in a steepened scarp next to the road. However, the report does not provide substantive evidence to quantify the amount of material removed by the event or the magnitude of the steepened scarp resulting from the event. Further, the subsurface materials and geometric conditions for potential failure beneath the road at the scarp are not supported by information provided in the report.
The information in the report does not support the conclusion that there is an immediate threat of bedrock instability or erosion beneath the road as result of the rainfall event. Further, there is no evidence that the stability of the road or supporting embankment has been compromised due to the rainfall event. The reports do not provide substantive information to support the need for the slope stabilization project, or for the lateral extent of the project along the slope.
In accordance with 44 CFR §206.225(a), Emergency work, emergency work is eligible if necessary to lessen or eliminate an immediate threat of significant additional damage to improved property. From the documentation provided, it is not evident that the post-disaster condition of the slope constitutes an immediate threat to the Pacific Vista. Additionally, in accordance with 44 CFR §206.226, Restoration of damaged facilities, permanent work is eligible if it restores an eligible disaster-damaged facility to its pre-disaster condition. The appeal presented no evidence that the road sustained damage during the disaster beyond that which was observed during FEMA’s site evaluation. Accordingly, the work to stabilize the slope is not eligible.