A geologist fielding questions about the scope of the Nelson Road rock slide said he is still mapping the extent of the damage and has no realistic timeline as to when he will be finished or how soon the rocks can begin to be cleared.
Geologist Reid Fisher, who spoke Tuesday night to a group of residents whose homes are isolated on one side of the slide, said he is at the beginning of the mapping process, given all of last week’s rain, but that he is working as fast as he can to understand the slide so he can present options to Santa Cruz County.
“We’re still trying to get our minds around it," Fisher said. "It’s a big slide. There’s a lot of bedrock involved, and we are trying to get a handle on the extent of the slide—both what’s moved so far and what may move. We want to understand the slide and understand what is safe to get out on and what is not.”
The March 21 slide has left Nelson Road at Sky Meadow Lane impassable, leaving the residents of 33 homes in an unincorporated area of Santa Cruz County without a road in or out of their neighborhood.
Because of the extent of the slide, county public works officials called in Fisher to determine when the slide will be stable enough to begin to move. They are waiting on his assessment before beginning any work on the slide. However, Fisher says it could be a long time before the mapping process is finished.
“It could be weeks, or it could be months," Fisher said to the residents. "I can’t say. We are working as fast as we can, but if I give you a number, it will be unrealistic or get your hopes up. It’s going to be weeks, at the least.”
County Supervisor Mark Stone, who represents the affected area, said it was important for residents to have some sort of idea of a timeline on when the county will know more.
“Folks are kind of stranded and looking for some sort of answer,” Stone said. “Right now, there is just nothing, and that’s a little bit unsettling.”
In the meantime, public works is working to create an access road around the slide that is expected to be finished Friday.
Right now, the road is for emergency-vehicle use only, but the county is hoping to open it up to residents at some point.
“We don’t know what [the road] can hold up to yet,” said Russell Chen, a senior civil engineer with the public works department. “It’s not your typical engineered road. We’re going to have to start driving on it and then we’ll make a determination. We’ll have to make some judgment calls as we go along.”
Chen added that the end purpose of the road is so that residents can have access.
As Fisher works to understand the scope of the slide, Steve Wiesner, county public works assistant director, said the county is already thinking about how to remove the 200-foot-wide pile of rock and debris.
“We are already in talks with contractors about what it’s going to take to get the slide out of there, how we are actually going to attack this thing and where it’s going to go,” Wiesner said. “We are blazing through new territory, literally, and public works is going to be open to adjustments.”