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Low home values in Pajaro kept the federal waterway project at the bottom of the list

PAJARO, Calif. (KION-TV)-People in the unincorporated area of Pajaro are slowly rebuilding their lives after having lost their homes and belongings during the winter storms. 

The U.S. The Army Corp of Engineers has announced a start date of next summer for the Pajaro Levee reconstruction project. However, the breaches from this past winter storm will be patched up this summer. 

After this natural disaster and the devastation that followed for the migrant community, the federal agency's selection process for federal waterway projects has also changed, according to representatives with the Army Corp of Engineers in San Francisco. 

“We all fully recognize that that is a flawed process. No one would deny that. Part of the concern though is what's a better solution?" said Deputy Chief of the Project Division for the Army Corp of Engineers for the San Francisco District Tommy Williams. 

In 2015, the agency evaluated the levee. There were recommendations to issue improvements on the levee completed in 1949 yet breached numerous times.   

“Over time, there have been different methods of evaluating what is a worthwhile investment with tax-payer funds. And for some time the Army Corp relied very heavily on National Economic Development benefits or NED benefits and they would be quantified during our planning studies in a benefit-to-cost,” said Williams. “We all fully recognize that that is a flawed process. No one would deny that. Part of the concern, though, is what is a better solution?”

According to former District 3 Supervisor John Phillips, what hasn't been considered through this process was the people. 

“What I consider very unfair from a social, economic standpoint of having the benefit-cost-ratio being based strictly on money. Not based on people's lives. That’s one where I didn’t think we were being treated fair, said Phillips. 

Before the breach, area leaders like Congressman Jimmy Panetta and Phillips had worked on getting the project funded. However, the winter storms of early 2023 would prove too strong for the inadequate levee system.

The event rocked people’s world, and the amount of stress and evacuation experience was traumatic for some.  

“They didn’t take into consideration the people, that maybe this house it’s only worth $150,000 to $200,000 yet has 12 people living in it,” said Phillips. 

Recognizing the devastation in Pajaro, the Army Corp has moved away

from its formula and is looking at things through a comprehensive lens. 

“We’ve placed a lot less weight on a high benefit-cost ratio and rather more attention to and appreciation for comprehensive benefits. That’s the approach with a project like this, said Williams.

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Veronica Macias

Veronica Macias is an evening anchor at KION News Channel 5/46.


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