By Jeffrey V. Smith
PEAK TO PEAK
A year can seem like a long time, unless you’re recovering from a flood. The massive recovery effort following the traumatic September 2013 flood, which caused widespread damage and destruction to public and private property throughout northern Front Range communities, has unquestionably made significant progress in the past year. There is, however, much to do.
Numerous anniversary events are planned in the coming weeks to commemorate the event, thank volunteers and first responders, highlight what still needs to be done and provide resources and encouragement for those still affected.
According to state officials, 17 counties covering an area estimated to be 4,500 square miles were affected by the flood event which also caused six fatalities. During the flood and aftermath, more than 12,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders and 1,000 more had to be airlifted to safety from remote locations. Ultimately, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management estimates 1,502 homes were destroyed and 17,494 more damaged along with 50 Colorado Department of Transportation bridges.
In one of the worst hit areas, Jamestown residents lost 20 percent of their homes, 50 percent of their roads, both town bridges and its water plant and long-time town patriarch Joe Howlett was killed in his home by a mud slide. More than 90 percent of the residents had to permanently or temporarily relocate with half still not able to move back home. The town’s water supply was only restored a few weeks ago and it will be years before access and other infrastructure is back to pre-flood conditions.
“This year anniversary of the flood marks a really sad and hard event for a lot of us,” Jamestown Mercantile owner Rainbow Shultz said. “We lost a good friend and a lot of us lost our homes. A lot of us lost our ability to be in our community and many of us are still waiting to get back home.”
Shultz points out it’s a sad year to commemorate, “but we have to also look at what has come out of the devastation.” She says Mayor Tara Schoedinger has been amazing helping residents with recovery and that neighbors have stepped up with “strengths and talents” just now discovered. “Residents have remained a cohesive group of mountain people who love our home and have decided to fight for it,” she said.
Jamestown is only one example in an area with hundreds. When the north, south and middle forks of the St. Vrain, which converge at the mouth of a canyon near Lyons, all flooded and left their channels, the small town was devastated, and its residents, among other
hardships, were forced to live outside of their homes for weeks while the city repaired its destroyed infrastructure and utilities. The flood permanently changed parts of towns, erasing long established neighborhoods and destroying many popular businesses.
Estes Park, Glen Haven, Pinewood Springs and other Larimer County mountain towns experienced widespread devastation as well. Four Mile Canyon, Sunshine Canyon, Coal Creek Canyon and other areas above Boulder and Golden were also heavily impacted. Everyone had to find a new way around the closed canyons and roads with countless homes receiving some sort of water damage or flooding.
“It is still somewhat mind boggling the amount of disaster we experienced,” Boulder County Flood Recovery Manager Garry Sanfaçon said. “It looks like there is a lot happening—and there is—but the reality is there are still a lot of people very much in the throws of their own recovery. Whether rebuilding homes or bridges or their access, there are still a lot people that are in limbo.”
The anniversary is a mixed bag to Sanfaçon. “There is a huge amount work our governments have done, along with individuals who helped each other, but recovery is a long process. It’s a marathon not a sprint. It’s going to take years,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but there are still plenty of individuals that are struggling.”
Boulder County’s Flood Recovery Manager position is the result of lessons learned in the 2010 Four Mile Canyon fire. According to Sanfaçon, after the fire he took the initiative to gather all the local fire chiefs to find out what could be done better. It was determined a central point of contact was needed for residents affected by the fire so they didn’t have to navigate a big bureaucracy to find out what department they needed for which resources.
Sanfaçon held the fire recovery position for a couple of years before moving on to other county projects, then, before the flood event had even ended, Sanfaçon was brought in to be Flood Recovery Manager.
The disaster, however, was too large for a single person to coordinate. “We’ve hired 20 people to just work on recovery,” he said. “We’ve made a huge commitment.” Sanfaçon is also proud the county has conducted more than 40 neighborhood meetings where over 3,500 people have attended. “We’ve spent a lot of time going out to communities and trying to communicate what recourses are available,” he said.
This month there are many anniversary events with each community marking the flood anniversary in their own way. Boulder County is working with all the cities and towns to present the BoCo Strong Flood Commemoration Week Kickoff Event, Sept. 7, noon-4 p.m. at Gateway Park Fun Center, 4800 28th St., in Boulder.
“We’re trying to highlight resilience of communities and neighborhoods, what our strengths are and how we’ve learned from this event to prepare for future possible disasters,” Sanfaçon said. There will be music, fun activities for kids, food and sharing of lessons learned from neighborhoods about resilience. There will be booths representing towns and cities, emergency preparedness groups and more. Improvisational group Playback Theater will also take flood stories from the audience, and act them out.
One of the biggest points of the anniversary is to get the word out that recovery is not finished. “I think people not immediately impacted by the flood think it has all been dealt with and have moved on,” Sanfaçon said. “We want to keep people apprised there is still a need for volunteers, still a need for donations.” He also predicts this is the “new normal” and the more individual neighborhoods that can be resilient and self-sufficient, “the better we all are.”
Resources and information can be found online at http://www.BoCoStrong.org http://www.bocofloodrecovery.org, http://www.lyons
recovery.com, http://www.larimer.org/flooding2013,www.jamestownco.org/flood-recovery-information, jeffco.us/disaster-
recovery, http://www.canyoncares.org/coal-creek-flood and http://www.coloradounited.com.
HIGHLIGHTED ANNIVERSARY EVENTS
BoCo Strong Flood Commemoration Kick-Off Event – Gateway Park Fun Center
Lyons Flood History Exhibit – Redstone Museum
Forecasting a Record Flood Event – Museum of Boulder
City of Boulder Science Panel, Boulder Flood Tribute: Community Stories in Action – Museum of Boulder
Rockin’ Rollout: Lyons Recovery Priorities –Wildflower Pavillion @ Planet Bluegrass
One Year After the Flood – Museum of Boulder
Mountain Rivers Jubilee – Estes Park Events Center
One Year Strong 3-D Mural Unveiling – Lyons Fork
Jamestown Flood Commemoration Open House – Jamestown Town Hall
Community BBQ and Football Game – Lyons Junior/Senior High School
Sounds of Lyons: “Crazy About You” – Rogers Hall
Colorado United Day of Service – Statewide
Viva Lyons w/Infamous Stringdusters – Bohn Park
Flood Anniversary Thank You & Silent Auction Fundraiser – CCCIA Hall
“The Road Home” Celebration – Pinewood Springs Fire
Sound of Lyons: “Life True” – Rogers Hall
Six Islands Parade and Recognition – Main Street, Lyons
Sounds of Lyons w/Taarka, The Songbirds, Granias – Sandstone Park
Community Picnic and Flood Open Mic – Wildflower Pavilion @ Planet Bluegrass
2013 Flood in Historical Context – Museum of Boulder
Mud Volleyball Tournament – Fairgrounds at Stanley Park
©MMAC Monthly – Published in September 2014 issue of the MMAC Monhtly