by Sally Scott Moore
New faces are seen in the crowd each week as seasonal residents return to Lake City and are greeted by concerns of flooding after the epic snowfall and unprecedented high altitude avalanches this spring.
In another heavily attended update meeting by the Unified Coordination Group (UCG) experts on Tuesday evening, May 28, new information was given by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) representative regarding sandbagging progress and how to effectively sandbag for optimum protection. Fresh information was also delivered on the status of two dams on Henson Creek which have been a major point of speculation and concern in previous meetings.
New Public Information Officer (PIO) Michael Davis introduced himself as well as the other UCG team members on the evening’s panel. Davis replaces Linda Smith, the previous PIO who headed home this week. Davis is an experienced training specialist from Jefferson County’s Incident Management Team.
Hinsdale County Sheriff Justin Casey cited the multiple factors of extremely high snow, high avalanche activity and cool May temperatures as core concerns for flooding potential.
“It is the compounding of factors that are concerning,” Sheriff Casey said. He reiterated the massive planning and preparations being made proactively “by lots of subject matter experts to respond appropriately to the emergency events.”
“A major concern regarding the historic dams is what to do if they begin to plug up with debris,” he said. Casey explained that following the assessment by ACE’s David Dean and other experts, “Their conclusion is that the safest thing to do is to remove the Hidden Treasure Dam.” Casey acknowledged the historic significance but stated, “After all, public safety is our primary concern.”
Sheriff Casey stated that contractors would “pull it down,” beginning on Tuesday, June 4. The Hidden Treasure Dam is owned by Lake City business owner George Hurd, who also owns the Hard Tack Mine
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tourist attraction along Henson Creek.
Moltz Construction, a Salida company with a long resume of water-related demolition and construction projects to their credit, has been hired for the chore. The posted agenda for a pending Board of County Commissioners special meeting cites a National Resource Conservation Service Grant as the potential funding source for the important “take down” project. According to Drew Petersen, the DHSEM state agency administrator, the historic dam is said to contain approximately 250 cubic yards of concrete.
Regarding the historic Ute-Ulay Dam, located upstream from the Hidden Treasure, Sheriff Casey said, “The stability of that dam is different than that of the Hidden Treasure and they feel that it is more likely to erode and crumble if impacted by debris loads.” The official term for an elderly, possibly crumbling historic dam is “self-regulating.” He concluded, “The decision was made to leave it in place and continue to monitor the dam.”
Sheriff Casey returned to the messaging for public information and safety covering the importance of signing up for CodeRed at https://public.coderedweb.com/CNE/en-US/BF7ED953CC69 and outlined the READY – SET -GO NOW notices that will arrive through the CodeRed system. He stated that CodeRed messages would arrive with more detailed, timely information. The outdoor warning siren system is still being tweaked, and he noted that another test was planned for the following day at 2 p.m. “This (siren system) is designed to warn those who are out of doors.” The third and final layer of warning comes at the time of an actual emergency with a reverse 911 message to home phones and the IPOS system to call all cell phones in the area.
A fresh update on current Hinsdale County road closures was also offered. Sheriff Casey reminded the audience these closures would fluctuate with conditions and work in the area. County Road 20 is currently closed at the normal winter gate at Snowden Meadow. It is closed to both vehicles and foot traffic due to contractors working to clear debris. Camping is prohibited between town and the gate along County Road 20 even where the road is open. Casey warned that in coming days County Road 20
would be closed below the Hidden Treasure Dam as
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deconstruction work commenced on the historic dam.
County Road 30 remains closed at the bottom of the shelf road and is closed to all vehicle and foot traffic until further notice.
Should full evacuation be required, Sheriff Casey emphasized that check-in points either north or south (depending on conditions) would be set up beyond any flooding danger where everyone would need to stop and check in with authorities. Hinsdale County Sheriff’s Office will want to know who has stayed behind and who has left. “We want to know how to contact those who leave to let them know when it is safe to return.” Casey, when quizzed, noted that if evacuation is recommended north towards Gunnison, the evacuation check point would be located at Sky Ranch/Ute Trail. Southern route evacuation point was identified as the Slumgullion Earthflow Overlook on Highway 149 at mile marker 67.
Handouts were made available to attendees which are also available on the Hinsdale County website, www.hinsdalecountycolorado.us, along with the video of the meeting. Jeff Wright, the UCG Team Leader spoke of the inevitable warming spring temperatures and what the consequences would be. “Yes, we absolutely still have a significant threat that we face,” he said. He also noted the unusually late snow and rain have kept the snow melt at a minimum, thus far, leading the experts to adjust the date for high peak runoff to an estimated June 19 (with a range of June 12 through June 27). “We hope we all look silly at the end of this. That we can walk away with the best plans in place for your town for the future.”
The theme of every Armory update has remained unchanged. No one knows what will happen. They only know that conditions are ripe for emergency events which are predicted to last for years, and planning is critical to meet whatever challenge arrives. Though earlier it had been reported that significant debris removal was not possible, Wright reported that a heavy equipment contractor had arrived and is “making progress.” The team leader added, “They are making a huge, significant difference, but it is a big job. It is 100 feet deep in some areas.”
In response to audience questions, Sheriff Casey gave assurances that if bridges were compromised, various “back door roads of evacuation had been identified” and would be relayed to citizens should
the situation arise. Some of these routes, he stated,
were on private property and asked the public not to scout them out ahead of time and to be respectful.
County Administrator Jami Scroggins, in response to a query regarding the cubic-foot-per-second (cfs) numbers posited in the handouts on what may be possible as the temperatures warm, said that she had been told that normally at this time, “Lake City sees a flow rate of 800 cfs in the river. Due to the cool temperatures of late, we currently are seeing only 300 cfs.”
The handout graphs showed National Weather Service-generated possible projections of clear water modeling (based on historic data as well as current conditions) for the Lake Fork at Gateview to be anywhere from 2120 cfs to a possible 3160 cfs. Scroggins reminded the audience, “These are clear water projections, and we are not expecting clear water.”
Michael Murphy questioned how much of the “big water concerns” noted in the handouts would be attributed to Henson Creek. “Everyone knows that is the choke point,” he said.
The panel acknowledged the potential for multi-year issues with the downed trees, boulders and debris, and confirmed that the new gauges would remain indefinitely to monitor the water levels after this season.
It was noted in response to questions that the massive sandbagging efforts heretofore are for protection of critical infrastructure and are not available for local home or business owners. Blue Spruce Hardware has sandbags ready-filled and deliverable locally by the flat for purchase. Jeff Wright noted that sandbags or the ingredients to make your own should be available further afield for approximately 25 cents a bag.
Frequently asked questions and other information on the evolving conditions continue to be posted on the Hinsdale County website and Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/hinsdalecountycolorado/
All other questions should be directed to Public Information Officer Michael Davis at 970-648-4118 or through Hinsdalepublicinfo@gmail.com.