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Washout on road 800 - photo courtesy Dennis George

Storms Delay Emergency Repairs Of Road 800, Elderly Residents Cut Off

RAYMOND – Emergency repair work on Road 800 north of Raymond has been halted by the latest series of storms battering the area, creating increasing problems for both anxious area residents and county officials.

Work crews had to be pulled from the reconstruction sites yesterday because of the ongoing heavy rains in the area.

“We’ll get the work going back up there just as soon as the rain stops,” Madera County Public Works Director Ahmad Alkhayyat said Tuesday. “We don’t want to rush crews back in while it’s still raining and then end up having to pay for this work twice.”

There were more than a dozen washouts and two sections of Road 800 were completely destroyed during an early February storm.

Alkhayyat said the cost to repair the narrow, lightly traveled roadway could total at least $360,000.

The weather-related road damage has essentially stranded many area residents, who are now unable to travel directly to Madera or Fresno without taking multi-hour detours.

“It’s a major headache but we’re dealing with it,” said 75-year-old Raymond resident Dennis George.

George and his wife Dotty are one of nearly a dozen local families most impacted by the damage to Road 800. Right now, the George’s only access to the Raymond General Store, which is six and a half miles from their home, requires navigating — via four-wheel-drive — a rugged dirt road and then crossing a rushing creek that George said is “at least a foot-and-a-half deep right now.”

“We’re certainly not enjoying this but at least for now, we’re getting by,” he said. “Every two weeks, we make the long trip into Oakhurst to buy our essentials.”

Speaking from his home this morning, George said he remains in “pretty close” touch with county officials.

“I’m a heart patient,” he said. “People at the county told me that in a worst-case scenario, they are prepared to use a helicopter to get me to the hospital.”

At their Mar. 5 meeting, the Madera County Board of Supervisors OK’d an emergency request to use American Paving to repair the damaged roadway. The job will include rebuilding one 20-foot-wide by 15-foot-deep chasm created when a torrent of rain and snow runoff rushed down the mountainside and ripped several large culverts out of the ground.

With the local emergency now in its second month, county officials are becoming increasingly worried about area residents. Alkhayyat said the situation in Raymond is “causing a concern for immediate life safety and emergency services.”

He estimated this week that repair work could still take as long as another month to complete.

Fresno-based American Paving started rebuilding Road 800 on Monday but had to halt work Tuesday when the latest wave of storms descended on the area. If the recent “atmospheric river” weather pattern — also known as the “Pineapple Express” — continues to drench central California, rebuilding efforts could be further slowed.

“We’ll get the [work] crews back in there just as soon as the weather cooperates,” Alkhayyat said. “We know we need to get it done as soon as possible.”

Only “about 25 or 30” cars use this narrow stretch of Road 800 every day, according to the public works director.

Alkhayyat said the emergency repair work will be paid with Local Road Funds, causing no impact on the county’s General Fund.

“We went with American Paving because they are a dependable contractor and when we got out the phone book, they were the first company we called that could get started on the work immediately,” Alkhayyat said.

This area of Raymond is a small, tightly-knit ranching community of mostly elderly residents. George said neighbors are “staying in close contact” and helping each other get by.

“Right now, we’re just sitting here biding our time, hoping things will get done,” he said. “I’m glad young people don’t live up here because they would go bananas right now.”

(Photos courtesy of Dennis George)

Approximate location of Road 800 washout:

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