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Summertime Challenges

One of my most vivid memories growing up in Flagstaff is playing Little League in the summer.

Unfortunately, what makes that time stand out is the image of the smoke-filled sky and huge red flames of the Radio Fire atop Mount Elden. I also know that a similar image will remain with all of us who witnessed the 2010 Schultz Fire.

It’s on that 15,000-acre patch of forest on the eastern slope of the San Francisco Peaks that the effects of an abandoned campfire continue to cause apprehension for community members waiting for the slightest drop of rain. As the annual monsoonal rainfall that blankets our region is a welcomed sight for many, it continues to draw a cautious eye from those living below the 2010 Schultz burn area.

In the wake of the fire, devastating floods followed. Community members, Coconino County employees, United Way of Arizona volunteers and strangers stood together, filling nearly one million sandbags, erecting barriers and walls in an effort to save homes, lives and property.

Despite our monsoon rain, as of late July, our beloved mountain has remained quiet. But we at the County remain poised to intervene in support of our friends and neighbors as we already have with flood preparation, response and mitigation efforts.

Since February 2012, the County has leveraged Flood Control District dollars, with the help of federal and state funding, to fund response efforts and studies to safely transport runoff from the burn area through neighborhoods. More than finding a remedy for an ongoing issue, the County and its staff considers these mitigation efforts to be an investment in the future of our community by increasing safety and providing jobs for local and regional contractors.

Earlier this summer, the County contracted with Northern Arizona-based Tiffany Construction to complete repairs to the Lower Campbell Ditch, which was badly damaged by floods last summer.

On Sept. 13 last year, monsoonal rainfall hit the burn area, sending a torrent of water rushing down the Lower Campbell Ditch, causing the gabion-lined walls to fail. At the time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused to allow the County to line the entire ditch floor with concrete, which contributed to the failure. This summer, the floor was lined with concrete and the gabion baskets were repaired (gabion baskets are wired baskets filled with stones that are used to line ditches).

 

In June, SDB Contracting Services, Inc. and their subcontractor, Flagstaff-based Kinney Construction, LLC Services, began reconstruction of the 2,400-foot-long Girl’s Ranch Road Berm. The berm, which runs east to west to the north of Forest Road 776 near State Road 89, was constructed in response to the 2010 flood to protect homes in the Fernwood and Doney Park neighborhoods.

While that project was funded by the U.S. Forest Service through the Secure Rural Schools Resource Advisory Council and the County Flood Control District, the County has taken on the role of facilitator, representing our communities with our federal partners as we all remain determined to invest in these communities.

These projects and others that are still being planned for the years to come do more than serve those communities that continue to be impacted by ongoing flooding. By utilizing government funds for these projects, the County, along with our federal and state partners, is helping spur economic development for hundreds of construction workers and local businesses.

These are dedicated members of our communities working to ensure the safety of their neighbors and allowing them a well-paying job to help fill local restaurants, stores and movie theaters.

Our investment into these affected neighborhoods will not end, however. The County, its engineers and community leaders continue to survey multiple other flood mitigation projects that will come to fruition in the coming years in the Schultz flood area.

But even as the sorely needed rainfall returns to our area now, and our fire danger wanes ever so slightly, it remains critical for residents and visitors to remember: A wildfire may last weeks, but its effects last decades. FBN

Interim County Manager Mike Townsend is a lifelong resident of Flagstaff. 

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