By Karen Brainard
It’s been nearly a year since the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to pursue an emergency evacuation route for Ramona, but negotiations to use a portion of Ramona Municipal Water District property for the route are not yet ironed out, said a water board member.
“The issue is access through the Ramona Municipal Water District’s spray field,” said Director Rex Schildhouse as he presented the Emergency Evacuation Ad Hoc Committee report at the water board’s Sept. 24 meeting.
Schildhouse serves on the committee with Darrell Beck, board president. They attended a meeting on Sept. 12 at the proposed site with county staff, RMWD General Manager David Barnum, and sheriff’s Lt. James Bovet from the Ramona station.
Schildhouse reviewed legal and health concerns that could impact the district and residents if the water district property was used for an evacuation route.
Many Ramonans called for an emergency evacuation route after traffic gridlock occurred on State Route 67 during the 2007 Witch fire as residents tried to flee town.
The proposed evacuation route, created through coordinated efforts of the Ramona Community Planning Group, county staff, Supervisor Dianne Jacob, and other agencies, would start by the old rodeo arena on Montecito Way and cut through a portion of the Ramona Grassland Preserve on a dirt ranch road that ends at the RMWD property line. That property is used as a spray field for effluent from the Santa Maria sewer plant.
To connect the route to Rangeland Road, access is needed through the RMWD spray field. From Rangeland Road, evacuees could head south to Highland Valley Road, and either take Highland Valley Road north to the 15 freeway or access State Route 67. They could also take Highland Valley Road to Archie Moore Road to Route 67.
Last year on Nov. 1, the planning group held an open house so the public could drive the route’s portion on county property. Most who attended were supportive.
Schildhouse said that no road exists on the spray fields and the ground could be moist.
“The spray fields have water cannons to operate without warning at high pressure and what they’re spraying is effluent water,” he said. “The effluent water by health code and by common sense says it should not come in contact with human beings because it’s not good for us.”
He also noted that the public water district cannot turn over property without fair compensation, so the county would have to work out an exchange or compensation package.
RMWD needs to protect its assets, he said, and if an evacuee left the designated route on district property and something went wrong, the district could be identified in a lawsuit.
Schildhouse said those and other issues require continued evaluation.
“On a personal concern, stepping away from the board, this evacuation route accomplishes nothing,” Schildhouse said.
The route from Montecito Way to Rangeland “doesn’t get you out of the valley of Ramona,” he said, adding that it covers three or four times the distance at 20 percent of the speed of driving on a paved road.
Barnum called the Sept. 12 meeting productive and said the county, after hearing discussion about the issues, indicated it will respond with a letter.
Once that letter is received, the ad hoc committee will review it and it will be brought to the board, the general manager said.