Flood ravaged communities on Colorado’s Front Range have been calling for more aid from the Roaring Fork Valley in recent days, as they work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to plan for the long recovery ahead.
Over the last week, staff and equipment from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County has been deployed to Estes Park and Longmont, and more will soon ship out for Boulder, Greeley and the small former mining town of Salina.
“When the flooding first hit, during their response and rescue phase, it was very intense and we were getting called a lot,” said Pitkin County Emergency Manager Valerie MacDonald. “Once they went into recovery, things slowed down. But they have started heating up again recently.”
The ramp-up in calls for aid comes as flood-damaged Front Range cities consult with FEMA to zero in on exactly what equipment they’ll need to repair their communities.
“That process is going on in all these affected counties, and it lets each entity know how to contract to go fix something,” said Chuck Vale, the northwest field manager at the Colorado Department of Public Safety in the division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
The town of Estes Park, whose sewer system was totaled by surging creek waters during the floods, recently called for three front-end loaders and licensed operators from Snowmass, Pitkin County and the city of Aspen.
Those workers are now dredging Lake Estes and using the fill material to help rebuild the city’s sewer system, according to Pitkin County Public Works Director Brian Pettet.
The town of Basalt has pledged to lend its staff and equipment to the upper valley to fill in for the absent loaders and workers if necessary.
Two local government public information officers, Pat Bingham of Pitkin County and Blair Weyer of the Aspen Police Department, also are currently in Estes Park, producing informational videos and issuing press releases to help the Upper Thompson Sanitation District communicate with disgruntled customers about ongoing sewer repairs.
Two-thousand homes in Estes Park remain in a “no-flush zone,” and the sanitation district is paying a $40,000 per month for porta-potties to serve its citizens, Bingham said. To lighten the mood, hardy citizens have even spearheaded a porta-pottie decorating contest, and one entry, called “Honey Poo Poo,” is painted to resemble the Mountain Dew-swilling redneck beauty queen Honey Boo Boo.
On their way to Estes Park, Bingham and Weyer came face to face with the ongoing federal government shutdown, when they tried to drive through Rocky Mountain National Park and found it shuttered.
A stroke of luck followed.
“The district ranger was driving by, he asked us what we were up to,” said Bingham. “He was able to get us an escort into the park, so we were the only people in all of Rocky Mountain National Park that day.”
ReRe Baker, the Pitkin County animal safety director, had a similarly colorful experience this week when she spent four days taking care of animals at the Longmont Humane Society, which shelters pets that were lost, abandoned or given up by their now-homeless owners after the flooding.
“I worked in the cat room,” she said. “I cleaned cat kennels for four straight days, and it was nonstop. There were 86 cages, and 50 cats went out for adoption when I was there.”
Periodically, Baker said, people displaced by the flooding who were staying in shelters or with friends would come looking for their cats.
“When they weren’t there, you can see how physically upset they were at losing their pets,” she said.
Requests for help from the Front Range continue to roll in each day, MacDonald said. Over the course of the next week, Pitkin County is likely to send several dump trucks to Greeley to help with road reconstruction projects, and Boulder County also recently asked that two skid steers, two loaders, a dump truck and an operator be sent to the small mountain town of Salina.
The daunting flood recovery efforts in eastern Colorado were made tougher this week by the federal government shutdown, which forced FEMA to shuffle employees in order to maintain its disaster relief service, and forced the closure of the agency in charge of realigning rivers and streams.
That agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is the division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture charged with realigning waterways that have flooded their banks.
“They help with engineering, but they also have the funding stream to accomplish [the work],” said Vale. “And they are not in their offices.”
On Nov. 1, several communities in northeastern Colorado are scheduled to start moving water into area reservoirs through local irrigation canals. That water represents next summer’s water supply, Vale said, but in the area around Longmont alone more than 100 irrigation ditches remain severely damaged, making it unclear how the reservoirs will fill.
“It’s just another frustration in a series of many for the people down here,” Vale said.