Paul Antolini’s stone quarry business remains closed nearly six months after the January storms sent a “tidal wave” of water through Colson Canyon Road.
“I’m just trying to get by, one day at a time. My employees are still on unemployment, and I’m looking forward to the day I can get back open,” Antolini said. “Gosh, I’ve never been through anything like this a day in my life.”
Colson Canyon Road runs into Los Padres National Forest and falls under the U.S. Forest Service’s jurisdiction, leaving the federal agency in charge of repairs and maintenance.
The U.S. Forest Service estimates that it will cost nearly $10 million to repair and it could take years to complete. For now, Antolini’s business remains inaccessible, Colson Canyon Road is still closed to the public, and residents are grappling with people trespassing on their private property to try and access the forest.
The Forest Service met with Colson Canyon residents on May 15 to give an update on the road’s reconstruction and answer residents’ questions, Antolini said. In the meantime, he said he’s working with Santa Barbara County and the Forest Service to find an alternative route for his business so he won’t have to remain shut down, but no route has been confirmed.
“There’s a lot of damage and I wish it could be fixed quicker, but unfortunately there’s been a lot of bureaucratic delay,” Antolini said. “I’m not trying to pass judgment; I’m just saying it is what it is.”
Andrew Madsen, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, told the Sun that the Forest Service is working with the Federal Highway Administration to make Colson Canyon Road eligible for emergency relief funds to cover the estimated cost of repairs.
“Folks from the Federal Highway Administration will evaluate in person, take some time looking at the road, and make an estimate of how much the cost would be and how much they would pay,” Madsen said. “The next scheduled round of evaluations is this fall. We have been told by the Federal Highway Administration that Colson Canyon Road is on the list and they will evaluate and make the determination if they will pick up the cost of rebuilding.”
It typically doesn’t take long for the administration to make a decision, he said, it’s getting the funds allocated that will take time. In the meantime, the road remains closed to the public.
“There have been incidents with the public going back in there and parking along the road, causing concerns for residents who know the road is closed,” Madsen said. “We have had people go and tip over back there right after the first set of storms. It’s people just looking for some fun, but it’s just not safe at this time.”
Mary Andrade, a resident who lives on the side of Colson Canyon Road that’s open, told the Sun on May 23 that there have been multiple incidents of target shooting, poaching wood, and trespassing on land clearly marked as private property.
“A week ago, someone pulled off the road right across from our home and started shooting quail on private property where my neighbor keeps all of her livestock, so it’s a problem,” Andrade said. “We want the public to come out and enjoy the forest, it is their right to, but … until the Forest Service repairs the road, we’re asking for the public’s patience, and we’re asking them to please respect the residents that live out there.”
With Memorial Day Weekend and hunting season approaching, she said that she and fellow residents have reached out to 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson’s Office and the Forest Service about getting additional patrol units and additional signage in the area to inform the public that they cannot enter.
While they wait for additional security measures, Andrade said the residents have been more communicative about who’s coming and going and made a temporary barricade and gate at the front entrance to Colson Canyon Road.
“It’s not perfect by any means but it’s something, and all of us are reaching out to the media, to [Congressman Salud] Carbajal’s office, Nelson’s office, and the Forest Service and being that squeaky wheel,” she said.