A muddy roadway in the Santa Cruz Mountains
Community residents shared concerns over the road damage from Anvil’s debris removal process earlier this year.
(Courtesy of Santa Cruz County)

‘They assured us they would pave this’: Damaged roads creating a rebuild headache for many CZU families

The Board of Supervisors voted to asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to pressure Anvil Builders Inc. to repair damage the county says it caused to local roads as part of a debris-removing project that followed the CZU fire. Anvil responded that it only used equipment allowed under its contract and is not at fault.

More than a year since the CZU Lightning Complex fire ripped through the county’s mountain community, many families are still in a limbo, struggling to rebuild. Now, one of the major challenges — damage to the public and private roads — could be the hurdle that sets families behind in their rebuilding timeline.

On Tuesday, county officials from the Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience and the Department of Public Works told the Board of Supervisors that Anvil Builders Inc. — hired as part of a $225 million contract to remove debris in the Bay Branch region — caused as much as $10 million in damages to roads in CZU-destroyed areas that it has not repaired. The region straddles five counties, and the respective government bodies shared the costs.

OR3 Director Dave Reid said Anvil officials recently stopped responding to county officials regarding the damage. The report on the issue states the damage was caused by the company using improper equipment and not understanding the area’s topography.

In a statement Wednesday, Anvil officials said that the company only used equipment permitted under its contract. And that CalRecycle, which oversaw the debris removal project for the state, should be held to answer for any concerns, not Anvil.

Supervisor Bruce McPherson noted that families cannot apply for building clearances until they receive fire clearances from the county — which cannot be granted until the road systems are repaired.

“How are the fire victims on Anvil-damaged roads supposed to proceed, when Anvil is taking no responsibility for the damage, and negotiations with them could take months if not years?” asked McPherson.

The timeline for debris removal

Reid said that as early as Feb. 26, Last Chance residents had raised concerns about road damage caused by Anvil.

Addressing those concerns, CalRecycle and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services promised that roads would be returned to the conditions they were prior to the debris removal.

But Matt Machado, director of the county’s Department of Public Works, said the damage un-repaired by Anvil includes:

  • $4.4 million on 17 county roads
  • $2.7 million on 7.81 miles of damaged roads in Last Chance
  • $55,000 worth of damage on Braemoor Road
  • Between $175,000 and $225,000 worth of damage on North Coast roads
  • 71 damage claims filed by property owners

“Throughout the summer, we were assured by CAL OES that we would get this resolved through the Anvil contract, but here we are, almost in winter, and resolution has not occurred,” Machado said. “Continued advocacy would be critical to meet a resolution on all of this damage.”

A muddy road in the Santa Cruz Mountains
An example of some of the road damage county residents have experienced, as shared with the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
(Courtesy of Santa Cruz County)

How CZU families and rebuilds are affected

Machado said many residents in Last Chance had invested heavily in road repairs themselves, but with the storms over the last few months, the roads had suffered significantly, and that’s not realistic for all homeowners to invest their own resources.

Susie Devergranne, a Last Chance resident, said at the meeting that her community has had a road association in place since 1972, which has maintained the road over that time with gravel. After Anvil’s debris removal, the gravel was all removed. She was one of more than 20 residents to speak in the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I’ve been driving on the road for over 22 years, so I’ve been able to see what condition it’s in,” she said. “They created this moon dust that’s been very hard to deal with, and has created problems with the road with recent rains...they assured us they would pave this section, but they unfortunately did not follow through on those promises.”

Lisa Warren, a resident of Whitehouse Canyon for the last 30 years, said there needs to be continued advocacy both from the residents and the county.

“Right now, residents are in the middle of a battle — that of course means the county should be in the middle of the battleground with those residents,” she said. “This process needs to speed along.”

Following public comment, the Board unanimously voted in favor of sending a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office to pressure Anvil to fix the roads, with additional direction for Reid to reach out to other state officials.