Commissioners Urge Flood Preparedness, Report Rose Lime Kiln Demolished in Slide

“The Rose Kiln is gone,” stated Commissioner Stan Whinnery of the historic site just recently transferred to Hinsdale County Historical Society, located up Henson on County Road 20.
Following his exploratory, early morning ride along with State Emergency Operation’s officials, Commissioner Stan Whinnery returned in time for the joint County/Town Trustee meeting Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Coursey Annex to report on area avalanche and debris conditions.
“We flew all over, up Henson and Nellie Creek. Up at the Klondike, the river is running down the road.” He continued with his description, “From Whitmore Falls up, there is a lot of debris. On the San Juan County side of the mountain, Whinnery noted, “We saw their Road and Bridge guys were at the bottom of Grouse Gulch, not quite up to another 300-foot wide slide.”
Whinnery showed some of the board members photos he had taken during the morning flight of specific areas. “On the Cinnamon side, up Cottonwood Creek, there isn’t a square inch that is not covered by debris.” His tone was understated as he added, “The state guy’s eyes were pretty big.”
No one, it seems, has seen the amount of debris that has resulted in one season of unprecedented avalanche activity experienced in Hinsdale County. Asked about conditions atop Engineer Pass, Whinnery responded, “You know the stone powder house at the top of Engineer? The roof is barely visible at this point. I’d say there is still at least 10 feet of snow there at this point.”
The County Commissioners hosted their regularly scheduled joint meeting with Lake City Town Trustees which included a bevy of state and local emergency officials. Along with Emergency Operations Center (EOC) team members, Coursey Annex was filled to capacity with citizens interested to hear updated news, since last week’s initial Armory meeting on the status of the ongoing state of emergency in Hinsdale County.
Listed on the agenda as County/Town emergency declarations update, the fast-paced meeting quickly dispatched the other items to arrive at the main area of interest.
First introduced was Team Leader of the Unified Coordination Group, Lori Hodges. Hodges, from the office of Emergency Management based in Larimer County, Colorado, is part of a diverse group of seasoned emergency professionals gathered from all
over the state of Colorado. Hodges wasted no time identifying the team’s initial dual mission, “First, can we mitigate the debris load? And, second, to prepare the community for what we call a flood fight scenario.” Hodges noted that they had arrived on Monday and immediately began an assessment of what is feasible.
“Unfortunately, the extent of debris is so excessive we can’t address if this is one season or even one year. We are shifting our goal to the flood fight. Our job is to plan for worst case scenarios. That’s what we do.”
She further identified the team’s priorities to include identification of trigger points, those areas most likely to be affected by debris dams, “and set up if this happens, then we do that scenario.” She outlined the newly streamlined Code Red – Ready, Set, Go warnings and encouraged everyone to sign up for that program. You must be signed up to receive the code red messages. Register at
If you need assistance in registering for Code Red, visit Hinsdale County Administrative office at 311 North Henson Street.
Hodges hammered home the message that if one receives a GO NOW message on phone or email that it really means go now! Previous information issued at last week’s meeting had given a four-point warning system which started with ‘ready’ and was followed by ‘set,’ ‘move,’ and ‘go now.’ The new, less ambiguous three-point warning has eliminated the MOVE and skips directly to GO NOW. Hodges clarified, “Even if you live in a higher area you should go, as there is a real possibility that you could be cut off from services and help. Everyone needs to go if the GO NOW message is sent out.”
Commissioner Borchers added that emergency evacuation plans are still in the planning stages and will be disseminated at upcoming meetings in more detail.
Hodges outlined the status of the morning’s air operations. She noted that the effort was three- pronged. An MMA or multi-mission aircraft, a helicopter, as well as a drone flight were undertaken to glean 3-D imaging of the two dams on Henson Creek. Concern was noted at the May 8 Town and County joint meeting of the structural integrity of the two vintage dams. She included removal options planning for debris removal following the emergency event and noted that plans were also in the works for sandbagging efforts.
More information growing from this initial
assessment will be forthcoming at the next public information meeting at 6 p.m. at the Armory, next Tuesday, May 21.
Commissioner Thompson added that information for the general public was planned at 6 p.m. and information pertinent to businesses and commercial interests is planned for 7 p.m.
Hodges added, “Colorado Geological Survey maps will be available at that meeting. These will be inundation maps and different perhaps than what you may have seen before.” She added that generally clear water mapping would show the flood plain near a river or stream where rising clear water would normally go. “Debris maps are different. We try to show through modeling where the debris might possibly divert the water.”
Drew Petersen, Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, noted, “Some of this is a big guess, because we just don’t know where debris could dam up and cause a breach.”
“The unified coordination team,” Hodges assured, “will be here until the emergent need decreases.”
Thompson reminded everyone that the Emergency Operations Center is set up at the Medical Center, and the Commissioners are meeting and working with them every day. She encouraged everyone to check the Hinsdale County website and Facebook pages for updated information. Jami Scroggins, Hinsdale County Public Information Officer, assisted by Sandy Hines, has been the funnel for all timely public information but is now assisted by Linette Schmidt and one other to coordinate those efforts.
As the joint meeting was adjourned, the Commissioners returned to conclude the final agenda items from their regular meeting. They quickly discussed and then unanimously passed the DOLA grant request letter. The grant includes $47,650 for needed river gauges for flood and debris as well as $61,312 to cover an essential early warning system. The $110,213 grant comes with a 50 percent match to Hinsdale County of $55,106.50. Without the early warning system, Lake City is reliant on the Code Red or IPOS (such as is used for Amber Alerts) phone/email warnings, Hinsdale County Sheriff’s Office door-to-door warnings, or the ringing of local church bells to warn of necessary evacuation.
In response to questions about how long it would take to get the early warning siren installed, DOLA Regional Manager, Kimberly Bullen stated, “We are aware of the need and that this Hinsdale County grant request was imminent. “It is a priority and we will expedite it.”
Borchers added assurances that vendors for the siren system were already being contacted for price comparisons and planning was underway to get the new system purchased, installed and operational.