Post-Avalanche Events, ‘Massive Debris’ Cited in Emergency Declarations Issued by County, State
Hinsdale County Commissioners, followed in tandem by State of Colorado, have taken the unprecedented move of declaring a second Hinsdale County Emergency.
Additionally, on May 2, the Town of Lake City verbally declared a state of emergency to address post-avalanche impacts in the high country and to allow the community access to technical assistance and financial resources from the anticipated State of Colorado emergency declaration. This state of emergency was ratified Wednesday, May 8 by the town.
The county emergency declaration came verbally last Thursday, May 2, by County Administrator Jami Scroggins and was then ratified by Commissioners Thompson, Whinnery, and Borchers at 8 a.m. Tuesday, May 7.
This most recent declaration follows an earlier emergency declaration in response to multiple avalanches which went into effect March 12 and
continued until termination on April 3.
One emergency declaration from the County — let alone two in a single year — is a rare event. Prior to last winter’s avalanche cycle, Hinsdale County’s last emergency declaration was six years ago, in 2013, when the county joined neighboring counties in a joint emergency declaration in response to the West Fork Complex Fire, which included the Papoose Wildfire on the upper Rio Grande.
This week’s most recent emergency declaration by the County makes no mention of flood concerns but instead references a local emergency — defining emergency as an “unexpected event placing life or property in danger and requiring an immediate response through the use of state and community resources and procedures” — arising because of “post-avalanche events” in the county “which resulted in massive amounts of debris in waterways.”
Impacts from the avalanche debris has the potential of being an added impact in conjunction with high snowpack melt following an unusually heavy snow year.
As reported in last week’s WORLD, Hinsdale County officials have been increasingly concerned that tree debris brought down by a succession of March avalanches has the potential to create unintentional blockages which could cause damage as the water flow is redirected. During last week’s summit and tour by county, regional and state officials, the focus was on potential high water impacts on Henson Creek, including the possibility of tree debris wedged into confined areas of the Henson Creek canyon, and two old cement dams which are breached with holes at creek level.
This week’s Hinsdale County Resolution No. 11 declaring a county emergency met an immediate favorable response from the State, with Colorado Governor Polis issuing a verbal executive order at 9:30 a.m. Monday, May 6, designating a state of emergency in Hinsdale County.
Governor Polis’ verbal executive order enables aid from the Division of Homeland Security Emergency Management (DHSEM) and Colorado State Emergency Operations Center to provide planning support and staffing for a multi-agency coordination group in response to flood threats in the county.
Both the county and state declarations are geared to bringing in state-funded technical expertise which, according to Hinsdale Commissioner Kristie Borchers, allows for mitigation work lessening impacts caused by the avalanche debris. State emergency funding will also address alert notifications and monitoring, as well as economic development.
Through the state emergency declaration, County Administrator Jami Scroggins is relieved to have planning assistance from San Miguel County Emergency Manager Henry Mitchell who arrived on the scene this week and will hopefully render his expertise for the several weeks.
Additional state expertise arrives next Monday, May 13. County Administrator Scroggins says details of next Monday’s summit are still being worked out, although representatives from the following agencies will be in town:
* Division of Homeland Security Emergency
* National Weather Service (NWS)
* Colorado Division of Water Resources (CDWR)
* Colorado Geological Survey (CGS)
* Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
* San Miguel County Emergency Manager
* Gunnison Office of Emergency Management
* Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA)
* Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT)
* Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and
Dr. Ethan Greene of Colorado Avalanche Information Center has monitored the high country above Lake City on a frequent basis since the March avalanches and is scheduled for a return visit later this week.
Dr. Greene will tour portions of upper Henson Creek above Capitol City, potentially as far as the Rose Lime Kiln near Boulder Gulch, which was acquired by Hinsdale County Historical Society late last winter, and Rose’s Cabin.
Hinsdale County Road & Bridge crew is making steady progress in their road opening efforts on Henson Creek, although the road department was delayed by the complexity of snow and debris in the
Klondike Snowslide which reached historic
proportions this year.
County Road 20 has now been opened to Capitol City, although it remains only single lane at present and portions of the road in the canyon at the Klondike and Big Casino — roughly a mile from the gate, which remains locked, at Snowden Park — are partially inundated by a flow of the creek
water. County and state officials visited the Klondike site on Tuesday this week to determine what can be done to keep the road from washing out.
Commissioner Borchers succinctly states that there “is simply not sufficient room” in the narrow canyon for Henson Creek, enormous piles of tree debris, and
After cutting one lane through both the Klondike and Big Casino slides, Hinsdale Road & Bridge continued up and past the Copper Creek Slide, also of sizeable proportions but not reaching the road, and then reached Capitol City after cutting through yet another slide and debris at Lee Smelter Gulch.
Seasonal residents Sheila Hunt and Terry McGehee own a summer cabin on the Ajax Lode and Millsite at Lee Smelter Gulch, accessed by a bridge across Henson Creek; reports are that no damage was done to the McGehee/Hunt improvements as a result of the Lee Smelter Gulch Slide.
Hinsdale County Road & Bridge crew has remained decidedly short-staffed in recent weeks, although its quota of heavy equipment operators is now returning to normal levels. The vital post of Road & Bridge Supervisor remains vacant.
Heavy Equipment Operator JoAllen Blowers was out of commission since April 13 when he broke his leg in a snowmobiling accident. Blowers’ doctor has now allowed him to return to work on a limited basis effective Monday this week.
A new Hinsdale Road & Bridge employee is heavy equipment operator Bert Schaefer, formerly from Clute, Texas, who joined the county road department crew as of Wednesday, May 8.