Sonoma Co. Supes hold emergency meeting after flooding

One week after Russian River communities flooded, huge piles of sodden debris line the streets, awaiting pickup.

Sonoma County Supervisors will discuss the cleanup, and its costs, at a special meeting Thursday at 9 a.m.

A public health emergency has been declared, because of all the contaminants and potentially hazardous materials within the trash. 

"We need the county's help, we need the state's help, this is an emergency," Michael Volpatt told KTVU at the business he owns, Big Bottom Market in downtown Guerneville. 

Volpatt is on the board of the Russian River Chamber of Commerce, and was hosting its monthly meeting at his market Wednesday night.  

"We're asking what you guys need, and what we're hearing is debris removal, " said Chamber Executive Director Elise Van Dyne, "because we need to keep bringing people in, we need to say we're open for business."

Mounds of "flood crud" are everywhere: stacked in front of homes and businesses and lining streets, including prominent River Road leading into the resort communities.

Many residents don't have the means or ability to haul it away, and separating toxic materials makes the grimy work even more tedious.  

"It's pretty hard not to mix garbage together when it's all mixed up already," said Bonnie Plevney, " because it was like a whirlwind , everything was everywhere."

Plevney's "Bonnie Sew Good" upholstery business is in ruins, along with her apartment in the back of the River Road shop. 

The water came within a few feet of the ceiling, and she had no flood insurance, because it was so expensive. 

"I have nothing left, really," Plevney told KTVU, "and I'm trying to salvage what I can but basically everything's ruined."  

That includes nine specialized sewing machines that may never work again after being submerged. 
Huge tree logs carried by the flood shattered the front windows of her store, taking other equipment away in the swirling water.   

Plevney made one dump-run on her own, and was shocked with it cost more than $100.

She has rented a power washer, a U-Haul, and storage space, and is running out of money. 

"I looked and I was down to $22 and 21 cents after spending all that." 

Her daughter has set up a GoFundMe account to help Plevney.

Sonoma County estimates the storm caused $155 million in damage, affecting 2600 homes and businesses.

Officials warn  the flood mud is mixed with chemicals, fuel, and sewage, and direct contact without gloves should be avoided. 

They also want household hazardous waste kept separate so they can be hauled and treated as toxics, rather than tossed into dumpsters. 

"Much of this material is in homes, around businesses, or in yards," said Sonoma County Interim Health Officer Dr. Karen Holbrook, " and in areas where there are a lot of people and pets."

For merchants, the debris piles are eyesores that impede an economic rebound. 

They worry for their employees in the service and hospitality trades, especially those who lost homes to the flood, and need stable jobs.  

At Volpatt's market, a jar on the counter collects funds for an employee named Alan, who was flooded out of the house where he lived with his family. 

In three days, more than $700 had been contributed. 

Non-profit groups are also collecting donations and handing gift cards to those in need. 

"At Russian River Alliance, we help workers all year, who might be in danger of becoming homeless," said volunteer Jeniffer Wertz, " so we've redirected that to flood victims."

Wertz dropped $100 in Safeway gift cards into the donation jar for Alan. 

"You wouldn't believe the difference it makes, some people have cried on my shoulder because they can now go buy groceries, they're in such a desperate situation." 

Local business leaders plan to press county supervisors to allocate funds for clean-up, since state and federal dollars have not come through promptly. 

River dwellers will point out the significant tax revenue generated by Russian River tourism. 
"We can't invite people back with it like this," said Michael Volpatt, " and so we say to Sonoma County, we can't give you more money unless you help us clean up this town!"